A man takes out a business loan, starts a company, and goes bankrupt shortly afterward. He falls into a depression and commits suicide.

What do you make of this story?
As a business analyst, you want to understand why the business idea did not work: was he a bad leader? Was the strategy wrong, the market too small or the competition too large?
As a marketer, you imagine the marketing and sales campaigns were poorly organised, or that he failed to reach his target audience.
If you are a financial expert, you ask whether the loan was the right financial instruments with the right interest rates.
As a local journalist, you realise the potential of the story, how lucky that he killed himself!
As a writer, you think about how the incident could develop into a kind of Greek tradegy and maybe a bestseller thriller you can write.
As a banker, you believe an error took place in the loan department.
As a socialist, you blame the failure of capitalism.
As a religious conservative, you see in this a punishment from God.
As a psychiatrist, you recognise low serotonin levels.

Which is the ‘correct’ viewpoint? None of them.

‘If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails,’ said Mark Twain

A quote that sums up the deformation professionnelle. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, named the effect the man with the hammer tendency after Twain: ‘But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you have to have to multiple models. And the models have to come from multiple disciplines, because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.

Here are a few examples of deformation professionnelle: doctors want to solve almost every medical problem with a scalpel, even if their patients could be treated with less invasive methods. Armies think military solutions first. Engineers, structural. Trend gurus see trends in everything (incidentally, this is one of the most idiotic ways to view the world). In short: if you ask someone the crux of a particular problem, they usually link in to their own area of expertise.

Even in his own jurisdiction, the man with the hammer tends to overuse it. Literary reviewers are trained to detect author’s references, symbols and hidden messages. Business journalist tends to sniff the most trivial utterings of central banks governors and somehow discover hints of fiscal policy change by suspiciously reviewing her tone or body language before she responds to questions.

In conclusion:

If you take your problem to an expert, don’t expect the overall best solution. Expect an approach that can be solved with the expert’s toolkit.

The brains is not a central computer (CPU). Rather, it is a Swiss Army knife with many specialised tools. Unfortunately, our ‘pocketknives’ are incomplete. Given our life experiences and our professional expertise, we already possess a few blades. But to better equip ourselves, we must try to add two or three additional tools to our repertoire, mental models that are far afield from our areas of expertise. For example, over the past few years, I have begun to take a biological view of the world and have won a new understanding of complex systems. Locate your shortcomings and find suitable knowledge and methodologies to balance them.

It takes about a year to internalise the most important ideas of a new field, and its worth it: your pocketknife will be bigger and more versatile, and your thoughts sharper.

Refer to part 1:


2 thoughts on “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail (Part 2)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s