The Right Tool is the Right Tool, The Wrong Tool is The Wrong Tool.

I’m submitting my entry to this month’s “Carnival of Journalism” early – since I’ll be traveling to present at a conference this weekend.

This month our host asks:

How do you decide to dedicate time to a new tool/platform/gadget? What is the process you go through mentally? And then later – how do you convince others to go through that process? And, last: How do you ensure that the tools you do adopt are used once the “newness” factor fades?

This is a great question and one tied very much to a class I just gave at UC Berkeley’s J-school.

One of the things I started with was showing this list of web tools from Robert Hernandez (the ying to my yang).

That’s a LOT of tools. More than you can probably teach even in a two-hour lecture. My goal, however, is not to teach specific tools, but to teach a mind-set of problem solving. For every pain-point there is a solution and that’s when you’ve come across a good tool. If a hammer didn’t get the job done, it would be a bad tool.

When I start to think about using a new tool/platform/gadget this is what goes through my mind:

  1. I start with a “yes attitude.” Hey new site – do I want to give you a try, sure!
  2. Is it simple to use. Yes – great. No, too bad for that tool/gadget/platform – I probably won’t come back.
  3. If it is simple to use – does it have an intended purpose.

There is an important distinction to make between a strategy and a tactic. A strategy is an intended goal or outcome. A tactic is a way to get there. In checkers the strategy is to eliminate all the checkers of the other player. A tactic might be to get one of your checkers to the other side of the board so you can make that checker a king. That’s a tactic which can help achieve your goal. Another might be to try and set up a triple jump.

Most platforms/tools/gadgets are tactical – not strategic. You should always keep your strategy in mind so that you can evaluate a tool about whether or not it’s helping to achieve that final goal.

The right tool for the right job.

You don’t use a sledge hammer to knock in a nail. Similarly you don’t need to use Storify if all you’re doing is aggregating two or three tweets. You don’t need to use TweetDeck if you only manage one twitter account. That’s overkill and while it can get the job done – it creates more stress than it’s worth sometimes.

The three steps above is part of the mental checklist I go through after I’ve signed up for a tool/platform. I don’t start with cynicism, I grant that somebody took time/energy to think about a particular pain-point and how they might solve it. But if after I’ve begun using the tool I find it difficult or pointless, I’m out.

Once a tool proves its worth to me – the next question is if it’ll become part of my routine. For that again I need to find a simple way to use it. If it creates more work for me than it’s worth – the relationship won’t last. Twitter is a great example because the tool is so flexible (you can put whatever content you want in it) I’ve seen people who use it as a way to take notes during live news events. What a FANTASTIC use of the tool. Not only does it have an intended purpose – but it doesn’t create more energy, in fact, it reduces it.

If a tool can’t become part of your regular work-flow (or solve a pain point in your workflow) it’s not a good tool. The only wrong tool is one that doesn’t work for you!

Convincing others to use a new tool is a different question all together. I must confess, I don’t know if I’m the best at getting other folks to jump into the waters of various tools. I certainly evangelize certain tools like xPad, Jing, TextExpander, Nudgemail, etc – all of which have made my life easier. The only thing I can really do is lead by example and just share the tools that have truly made my life easier. If they don’t – what would I have to show for it?


4 thoughts on “The Right Tool is the Right Tool, The Wrong Tool is The Wrong Tool.”

  1. Great post. Love this “My goal, however, is not to teach specific tools, but to teach a mind-set of problem solving.” – that’s exactly how I approach my courses at University of Memphis.

  2. Great post, Dave. Love the point about being strategic. I agree with you: It’s not about obsessing about the software or technology itself; it’s about usability. It seems most technologies follow that pattern: Is it easy to use, and does it fit into my routine? If so, it leads to adoption, then ultimately habit.

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