Using the Right Tools

The last few weeks I’ve had cause to give thanks to Norman Breakey. He invented the paint roller, a tool many of you have an intimate acquaintance with. By tweaking a basic idea (the paintbrush), the roller takes a previously tedious task and speeds up the process. A potential user requires minimal retraining in order to take advantage of the roller’s benefits over a paint brush in large areas. However, while a roller takes care of the big spaces, there’s still a need for the paintbrush. The small areas, areas with detail, require the lighter, more specific touch of a paintbrush.

For example, if I tried to paint the wall right by the ceiling with the roller, I usually got wall paint on the ceiling, requiring touch ups. When I took the time to trim out the edge with a paint brush, touch ups were rarely required. My experience has shown that using the right tool at the right time can make all the difference in the final results. I’ve seen a similar thing happening online.

Does Facebook or Twitter work for every situation? Drilling down even further, does every aspect of your life belong on Facebook or broadcast via Twitter? I’ve wondered about our willingness to embrace every new tool as the answer to both real and make believe problems. Even more curious is our continued search and expectation for new tools.

The initial excitement over tools like Facebook and Twitter diminishes as people become familiar with the quirks. Then the questions and criticisms become louder and more frequent. Calls for the next version, the next tool begin almost immediately, raising the question that Noah Kagen highlighted last week: “When is something good enough Not to change?”

Over time, tweaks to the paint roller have made it easier to move, but the basics stayed the same because the underlying idea had lasting value. Maybe that’s the other question we need to ask about the tools we use, Does the underlying value have staying power that holds up over time?



2 Responses to “Using the Right Tools”

  1. April 7, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Hey Britt-

    Good thoughts, thanks for sharing! One distinction I made while reading, though, is that when it comes to adopting a new tool online, it is sometimes better/common to err on the side of too much use in order to define for ourselves or our organizations what the best specific uses for that tool are. It wasn’t until you tried using the new, fabulous roller for all of your painting needs that you discovered it couldn’t get the corners, etc. Full, exuberant adoption usually leads to better understanding and then a refinement of use.

    Thanks for getting my mind thinking on a Monday morning!

  2. 2 Britt
    April 7, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    @Amy: I think your distinction takes the idea even a step further. Your comment about tool adoption needing to be defined is something I’m not sure commonly comes up in the conversation. Instead the focus is on the fact that something is new.

    I completely agree that exuberant adoption is a great way to get started. It’s the lack of refinement later on that causes me to wonder. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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