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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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.