Are You Missing out on the next Big Thing?

Consultants always have a tool kit, a fancy method and a book that you can use to improve performance.

There is always something new:

That is just for the process improvement guys, let us not forget that

Numbers and acronyms always sell books

You really should read…

For my sins I’m guilty as well, try 10 things you really should know

We love our tools

I love them as much as the next man, I am the biggest tool head you will ever meet, I have shelves groaning under the weight of all those books, I have even read some of them.

But there is a problem with tools

If I told you the best tool ever was a hammer then I would be absolutely right if your problem was a nail.  An electric drill cannot be beaten if your problem is the lack of a hole.

Now it is possible to create a big hole with a hammer, but it is not so clever —  I have tried.

The problem should define the solution.

So the next time somebody is trying to sell you the latest tool kit

It is wise to ask yourself what – specifically – is the problem you need to fix?

And haven’t you got something that will do that already?

There is nothing new under the sun ~ Ecclesiastes 1:9

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Pumpkin Carving Tool Set

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  1. James, I couldn’t agree more, and I hope a lot of people in typical ‘Lean Support’ areas read this

    I wish I had a pound for every time I have had to ask why people want to do ‘5S’ or some other Lean tool to me without understanding the problems I am trying to deal with. People have asked why Toyota are so happy to share their solutions with their competitors? – Simple, they are their solutions to their problems. Unless you understand the problem and thinking that created them, you don’t really understand the solution, so what are they giving away?

    Teach people to think and they will reveal the real problems. Understand the problem and you are half way to finding a solution.

    • James Lawther says:

      Reminds me of the story of the consultant who was busy 5Sing a call centre, marking out the standard place for phones on peoples desks Bob. Just so they didn’t lose them.

      Like your point about their solutions to their problems


  2. Interesting point, James. I almost agree, but many tools or techniques are not the matter, I think. When, e.g., CEO brings such a tool, many managers usually/tactfully disregard it or go with it irresponsibly. People can understand the CEO’s simple idea or not.

    • James Lawther says:

      have seen the same thing but wonder…

      Is the problem a CEO trying to enforce change with a new approach that isn’t needed, or is the problem his staff rejecting the approach?

      Either which way there appears to be a communication problem somewhere.


  3. Andy Blunden says:

    Several ways to talk about this. The consultant with only one tool becomes ‘a solution looking for a problem’ and is arguably the most dangerous route that one can take. The consultant or manager with multiple tools potentially has a number of ways of looking at a problem, but they need to be wise enough to select the right tool for the situation. Of course the premise of the whole discussion is the definition of ‘tool’. The term tool is misleading. There are indeed tools as in a workshop analogy, but there are also toolboxes, approaches, methodologies and systems. Many are thorough and contain an appropriate degree of analysis, some do not and assume analysis. It is therefore important before one applies a solution to be sure that the problem has been properly defined and analysed and the solution qualified. In my opinion the balance comes through use of ‘contingency theory’ that is the decision maker having an appropriate level of depth, experience and wisdom to choose the right tool, system or approach for the situation. Invariably managers looking for the ‘next big thing’ do not seem to be able to do this and are often shopping for a populist solution to hide their inability to do their jobs.

    • James Lawther says:

      Couldn’t agree more Andy, I guess my point is that we are always ready to jump at the latest thing without really thinking through whether or not it will solve the problem we have.

      • Andy Blunden says:

        Yes that is true, I guess innovation is a good thing provided we have properly analysed the problem and whether the latest thing is actually ‘good’ or just new……

  4. Lawrence Reiter says:

    Tools have become like management books – people jump on the “latest and greatest” which remains the latest and greatest until the next one comes along 6 months later. Too often simple techniques get forgotten and yet can yield good results.

    Flashing neon lights don’t equal success. Up and down the org chart buy-in is more important than a glitzy and too often overly complicated tool.

  5. Jewel Kennington says:

    I began doing analysis years before all the current tools existed. I have found it interesting that I was long ago using a lot of the techniques that later became official tools (for which companies now charge very high prices).

    I am often amused by how much analysts seem to rely so heavily on “tools” when they could really stand a little more common sense. Some things are blatantly obvious without having to be explained by some trendy tool.

    Am I old fashioned? Some of you may think so. Some tools can be very useful, and I do not intend to disparage them too harshly. But I would like to see more analysts who can think logically through problems.

  6. Tools/Techniques and Skills/Competencies are not the same thing. A master carpenter wearing a tool belt is not the same as an apprentice wearing a tool belt: same tool set and yet totally different skills and competencies..

  7. William Fuller says:

    I prefer to think that the problems that I encounter are not based upon “too many” tools and methods; rather, I find that “too little” understanding of the goal and the barriers to its achievement are, by far, the larger hurdle.

  8. James Lawther says:

    I think both William and Jewel hit the nail on the head for me. It is all about understanding the problem rather than slavishly using the latest tool

  9. James,
    One of the problems that I often see are firms that choose people with tools over those that seek to understand and then seek the right tool for the problem.

    From that, there seems to be fault on both sides of the equation….consultants that turn themselves into ‘square pegs’ and everything and everyone has a ‘square hole’ and organisations that have a fundamental patience problem.


  10. Collin McLoughlin says:

    Tools are only as effective as the people using them. I think the question is how sophistication of those tools, are they accomplishing your goals or are you simply using them to “go lean”?

    No matter what tools you use, management is a complicated task that requires a blend of big ideas and good people skills. Tools can help that but they cannot replace it.

  11. Hello James,
    The most powerful tools that show me for me are:

    a) genuinely curious mind ignorant/immune to the dominant of way of seeing and explaining;
    b) a means of recording observations;
    c) dialogue (collaborative-explorative) communication between a diverse community of people who have an interest-stake in the matter at hand-discussion.

    Given this we can and do come up with ways of addressing issues, inventing products and solutions, better way of working-living.

    The issue is that if this way of showing up in the world was encouraged (starting in the home and school) then the Brahmin caste would be out of work and could not prey upon the lower castes. So you have a whole bunch of people who either live in the Brahmin caste or desire to do us inventing and busy selling their holy scriptures. In the world of business these holy scriptures always take the form of silver bullets to complex business problems. What do you sell to the ignorant-lazy: quick fixes, no pain, magic recipes…

    All the best