What does Maslow's quote of "If the only tool you have is hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail" mean?

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote by Abraham Maslow refers to the necessity to approach problems and/or situations using various methods. The analogy of the hammer, the tool, refers to using only one method to solve a problem. The nail is the analogy for that problem. Therefore, to explain the analogy, if we are building a house, a hammer is certainly useful. However, if a hammer is our only tool, we will never get that house built. Therefore, one must implement different tools or strategies to solve a problem; one tool is usually not enough.

For example, consider a company that continually has business losses due to poor communication with clients; this is the nail or the problem. To send bills, this company has always relied on the postal service, the tool or the hammer, and has never done any follow-up with clients concerning their satisfaction. However, this company now decides to offer clients a choice as to how they would like to pay their bills and adds online bill pay, a different tool. As well, they adopt a follow-up questionnaire to check on customer satisfaction, a second tool. Different methods or tools are necessary to solve problems.

Humans have many tools in their tool box. That is, if we cannot solve a problem by one method, we may have to use two or three. For example, in most medical research, rational, analytical thinking is required. However, to find a new cure for a disease, creativity is required along with the scientific process. The different ways of thinking become the differing tools used to find the cure for the problem, the disease.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maslow's quote seems to speak to the idea that "different tools are needed for different jobs."  Literally, the quote argues that one needs a multiplicity of tools to address the multiplicity of problems that one might encounter.  In order to be useful and to have purpose, if a person only has a hammer, they tend to see problems and their solutions in a narrow manner for their only possession is a single tool.  It is here where there has to be an embrace of a widened approach to solving problems.  Maslow's hierarchy of needs speaks to this.  At different points in one's life, the needs and problems of individuals are different.  Some might face challenges in the realm of basic subsistence, while others might face hurdles in emotional or psychological condition.  The needs in both settings are different.  The demands and approaches to solve problems are different.  It is in this light that individuals would need different tools for the different jobs that await the individual.  One of the reasons that Maslow's hierarchy is so unique is because it argues that the individual endures consciousness in different phases and within each phase are a different skill set of challenges needed.  It is here where understanding is needed and where individuals must embrace the perspective of embracing multiple tools for multiple jobs.