• Dave Bates

The (relative) unimportance of individual tools

Why developing problem solving frameworks is better for your mental health than just building skills and chunks of knowledge

Photo of a rolling red toolbox with four drawers pulled out and showing a variety of different tools.

In the past few days, I've had some conversations about the pressure we feel to always have the right answers.


Many of us face the same challenge:


How can we balance the idea that someone is depending on us for solutions with the truth that we often don't have 100% of the skills and knowledge we need?


It's easy to get bound up in fear and stress. It's natural.


It's also not particularly healthy.


This challenge is because of a story we're telling ourselves.


It contains some truths and some fictions that masquerade as truths.


One way to overcome it is by noticing the language and reframing it.


What if…


… it isn't actually possible for one person to have every single skill required?


… no individual person can hold enough knowledge in their head at all times and for every situation?


… the approach matters more than the specific "tools"?


Most people own at least a few tools. Maybe a hammer, a couple screwdrivers, and some sort of box knife.

  • Hammers are for driving things.

  • Screwdrivers are for turning things.

  • Box knives are for opening things or cutting materials into the shapes we want.

There are literally millions of different kinds of tools.


There are so many that nobody could reasonably own one of every type - not to mention all the variations in sizes of a particular type of wrench.


It's impressive to find someone with a lot of tools.


It's even more impressive to find someone who actually knows how to use those tools correctly.


But, far and away the MOST impressive find is someone who knows how to leverage the tools correctly when the "right" solution isn't obvious.



People who intentionally focus on building a problem solving framework recognize that tools are a *part* of the solution. They're not the solution itself.


These people don't just collect dots. This knowledge. That specific skill. They're interested in the connections between the dots.


These are the people who escape the trap when they run into a situation where they don't have a skill, tool, or specific piece of knowledge.


They don't need to be "right". Why?


They’ve cultivated a system that will show them the way through. Applied expertise is the ability to re-frame a situation into the context of what's possible - not according to the gaps in skills, knowledge, or capacity.


They've built a problem solving framework that includes these things, but it isn't strictly dependent on them.



Sometimes the challenge is really complicated, big, or scary. It might be high-risk. People's lives might even be on the line.


It happens.


And, when it does, the framework is almost always more important than any single skill, tool, or piece of knowledge.


The bigger the challenge, the more important it is to be a person who is investing in building frameworks instead of simply storing individual "tools" and information.



What would it look like if you choose to reframe your story about being "right" into a framework for solving problems?


It turns out that when you do, you might find you're "right" more often - and without as much of the stress and risk you put on yourself as you try to avoid being wrong.


I'm an executive coach. If you're a business owner or senior leader feeling stuck in your current outlook and want to find ways to elevate your problem solving framework, we should talk.


Call 919-925-0784 and leave a message so we can schedule a time to chat.



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