Smart Thinking

The Golden Hammer

The Golden Hammer, Law of the Instrument or Maslow’s Hammer – applying a familiar technology or concept to problems irrespective of its suitability.

THE LAW OF THE INSTRUMENT, Golden Hammer or Maslow’s Hammer relates to circumstances where a familiar technology or concept is applied to problems irrespective of its suitability.

The Golden Hammer

The Golden Hammer

Abraham Maslow:

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Using the ‘right tool for the job’ is not always simple due to the existence of:

  • Pet applications and solutions (hammer advocates)
  • Silver bullet and panacea solutions (the hammer worked last time, and will work this and every time)
  • Skills issues (we can use the hammer, but not other tools)

Maslow on Management

Anti Pattern Name: Maslow’s Hammer / The Golden Hammer / Law of the Instrument

Type: Technical

Problem: Advocating use of the wrong tools usually due to lack of familiarity with, or awareness of, alternatives.

Context: Tool selection, design decisions.

Forces: Governance issues (preventing use of hammers), available skills, cost of adoption of alternatives.

Resulting Context: Sub-optimal solutions and regret cost.

Solution(s): Invest in training and ‘tooling’ evaluation and adoption. Ensure appropriate Principles are in place and governed to avoid creation of Golden Hammers. This is best done by ensuring that tools and applications ‘do what they do best’ and no more.

Further Reading on Abraham Maslow

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.