Don’t confuse the tool with the result

We all use tools each day. Don’t let the tools takeover.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to experience on a sailing class on Sydney harbour. A spectacular location for sailing and we were all very excited by the opportunity to spend an afternoon on the water. Some of the men in the group were particularly excited that the yacht had grinders. Grinders winch the sheets that set the sails like on the yachts we had seen in the America’s Cup and Sydney to Hobart ocean races.

Our veteran instructor had seen that enthusiasm for grinders before. He had one simple piece of advice before we started. ‘Always remember’, he said placing a hand on the grinder ‘this is the tool.’ he then pointed to the great expanse of sail fluttering in the breeze and said ‘That is your result’. Suffice to say he had to gesture and shout ‘tool’ and ‘result’ more times that day before everyone got the message that the object was not to grind furiously. The purpose was to set the sharpest sail for best performance in the wind.

I have seen that experience many times. People can lose sight of their purpose and what generates performance. When that happens, they often furiously work their tools for their own sake. The role of leaders is to shift the focus from working on tools immediately at hand to the point of work.

Let me give you some examples of tools that commonly go awry:

– The power of a brand is to generate incremental sales and returns. It is not to have the best compliance with brand guidelines. Guidelines are the tool.
– The power of customer relationship management is to enhance the value of conversations with customers. It is not to have a CRM that has every feature and tracks every unit of data.
– The power of enterprise collaboration is to allow a community to achieve some valuable purpose. It is not to have the best solution with all the features or to prevent the community from acting in an unapproved way.
– The power of visual communication is to convey ideas more easily & effectively It is not to have the coolest or most complicated PowerPoint or infographic.
– The power of a meeting is to get buy-in to a collective decision when required. It is not to produce the best or longest stack of minutes.

Next time you see someone who is confusing the tool and the result take the lead. Like the yachtsman, give them a steer in a better direction.

6 thoughts on “Don’t confuse the tool with the result

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