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We need a bigger Hammer here

The easy way out usually leads back in.

In a modern version of an ancient Sua story, a passerby encounters a drunk on his hands and knees under a street lamp. He offers to help and finds out that the drunk is looking for his house keys. After several minutes, he asks, ''Where did you drop them?'' The drunk replies that he dropped them outside his front door. ''Then why look for them here?'' asks the passerby: ''Because,'' says the drunk, ''there is no light by my doorway''.

We all find comfort applying familiar solutions to problems, sticking to what we know best. Sometimes the keys are indeed under the street lamp; but very often they are off in the darkness. After all, if the solution were easy to see or obvious to everyone, it probably would already have been found.

Pushing harder and harder on familiar solutions, while fundamental problems persist or worsen, is a reliable indicator of nonsystemic thinking what we often call the ''what we need here is a bigger hammer" syndrome.

When we play as children, problems are never far away from their solutions as long, at least, as we confine our play to one group of toys. Years later as managers, we tend to believe that the world works the same way. If there is a problem on the manufacturing line, we look for a cause in manufacturing. If salespeople can't meet targets, we think we need new sales incentives or promotions. If there is inadequate housing, we build more houses. If there is inadequate food, the solution must be more food.

Commonly, the root of our difficulties is neither recalcitrant problems nor evil adversaries but ourselves. There is a fundamental mismatch between the nature of reality in complex systems and our predominant ways of thinking about that reality: The first step in correcting that mismatch is to let go of the notion that cause and effect are close in time and space.

For years, for example, American manufacturers thought they had to choose between low cost and high quality: ''Higher quality products cost more to manufacture,'' they thought. ''They take longer to assemble, require more expensive materials and components, and entail more extensive quality controls.'' What they didn't consider was all the ways the increasing quality and lowering costs could go hand in hand, over time.

What they didn't consider was how basic improvements in work processes could eliminate rework, eliminate quality inspectors, reduce customer complaints, lower warranty costs, increase customer loyalty, and reduce advertising and sales promotion costs. They didn't realize that they could have both goals, if they were willing to wait for one while they focused on the other. Investing time and money to develop new skills and methods of assembly, including new methods for involving everyone responsible for improving quality, is an up front Quality and costs may both go up; although some cost savings (like reduced rework) may be achieved fairly quickly the full range of cost savings may take several years to harvest.

Source: Senge Peter, 2006, "The Fifth Discipline", Currency, USA.

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