Sixteen ounce hammer

A number of recent debates have involved decisions on how to best solve a problem. Usually, people are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole or define something so broadly that it really is hard to identify a proper solution. Following are two recent examples and some very general thoughts on making your job easier and more enjoyable.

Example One

As Chairman of Technical Ministries at the church I attend, I am responsible for the technology decisions as they relate to our audio, video and lighting systems. I recently received a request for a particular piece of equipment for our video systems that would not come close to supporting our needs. It was recommended in response to our pastor’s desire to better incorporate video into our services. This particular piece of equipment would do that, but did not really solve the problem.

Example Two

As a software developer, I consistently have to make decisions about how to best approach a particular problem. This involves user interface as well as technology decisions. There are no less than six million different solutions to any one problem, more when you actually combine the design with technology. I like to be flexible and have the ability to use the right tool for the job. Too many times I run across people who lock themselves into a partnership with a particular vendor or align with a single programming langauge. Sure there are benefits to consolidation such as cost, maintenance, etc. but is it really solving your problem?

What is the problem?

I think this is where people fail the most. A simple understanding of the problem drives the solution. However, many times the problem is stated as a solution. For example, in a particular software application, a new feature may be suggested such as “I need to be able to do X from page Y.” All too often, a typical developer will implement it as stated, without first asking “why?”

After I had already started penning this post, Jason at 37signals wrote about a common feature request for Basecamp to which Garrett responded with this insightful post. This pretty much summed up my entire “consultative approach” to development. I’ve been preaching this for a couple of years now at places I’ve worked.


I’ve heard it said before (sorry, I can’t remember where) that “There are no wrong answers, just right answers to the wrong questions.” This is absolutely the outlook one has to have when dealing with clients in any industry. If you ask the wrong question, you may receive the right answer to that question, but the wrong answer to the real question (that makes sense, right?). The client has hired you as the expert. You have the experience to ask the right questions and then make the appropriate recommendations in any given situation. It pains me when I hear the old adage “the client is always right” or “the client gets what the client wants.” Two words – cynicism and laziness.

Make the extra effort to consult with the client on the various solutions to the problem. Granted, they’re not usually going to care about the various technicalities involved, but there are certainly more reasons than just technical that you’re making any one recommendation. Identify with the client. Show them – in their language – how each solution affects the user as well as their bottom line, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to win. Present the idea passionately, authoritatively and set yourself up to do the job right the first time. If the client chooses a less-than-adequate solution, you’ve done your due diligence. Nine times out of ten they won’t, given you did your job.

The Analogy

The reason I titled this post Sixteen-ounce Hammer is that one of my many hobbies happens to be woodworking, construction, etc. I’ve finished basements, built furniture, remodeled bathrooms, etc. When my dad passed away and I inherited his workshop, I brought home a box full of nothing but hammers. There were 22-ounce framing hammers, 16-ounce hammers, hand-made wood mallets, rubber mallots, ball-pean hammers, sledges, finish hammers, etc. Each has its own purpose. Sure, I can use a three-pound sledge to drive finish nails, and though it would take a while, I could use a finish hammer to drive a nine-inch spike.

So what?

It is simply a matter of selecting the right tool for the job. Understand the problem, see the big picture, consult with the client and allow the client to make the decision. I guarantee you’ll enjoy your job much more having empowered yourself to do your job the right way the first time.

Take Charge!

A few months ago, as I went through some hefty soul searching, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I did a brief personality test. Pure hatred is typically felt for these things, because they’re so inaccurate, but this one was a little different. The questions were answered honestly, given the circumstances, and it revealed that I was a passive leader.

The Passive Leader

A passive leader is one who waits to be empowered and placed in charge of a given task. This described me to a T. I hate to intrude on other people’s business, and sometimes take an overly humble approach to situations. If my role is defined, I tend to stick to that role, and not stray from it. The problem is, this approach has failed too many times.

Many times recently, I’ve caught myself trying to explain this to someone and they say “ummm, you think you’re passive?” Well, I guess I did. You see, I also consider myself an excellent problem solver. For this reason, I’ve stepped up in a few areas of my life to attempt to lead things in the right direction. Most of the time, I’m convinced that I’m simply aiding someone else’s leadership, but for some reason I end up just taking charge myself. Yeah, that would be the complete opposite of passive, I know.

Practical Application

The two primary areas of life, outside of the home, are church and work (my current consulting gig). Each of these areas is lacking something. Well, okay, many things. Not just for me personally, but for the overall organization, I see voids that need to be filled. Both places are filled with talented people that could truly make a difference in this world if given the opportunity. The problem is, passion is being stifled for whatever reason. Most of it relates to communication and process. But to be quite honest, the main thing lacking in each area is solid leadership.

Solid Leadership

Solid leadership is so many things. I’ve been following Terry Storch’s series titled “52 Leadership Tips”. He also has a category on his blog simply titled “Leadership”. I align with Terry on nearly everything he says regarding leadership. In addition to the old standbys – integrity, honesty, etc – I think there are three huge ones for me – passion, communication, humility.


Passion has been my number one buzzword lately. As I’ve been building my personal philosophy, as well as the manifesto for my new company, I have been inspired by “Good to Great” and “Go Big or Go Home.” I do’nt think you can do either of these without passion. Again, as Terry points out, laziness, commitment and vision contribute to our “good enough” society. How can you be lazy and not committed to something you’re passionate about? If you have a passion, commit yourself fully to it. Do great things because of that passion, even if it means big changes have to take place and risks need to be taken.

Then, lead others who share that passion to do great things. If you are already a leader, and you sense your team is not fully on board, find a way to incite that passion in them. Make your vision known. The problem with every company I’ve ever been a part of is the vision is never clear. Or, even worse, the vision is simply “make the most money possible.” That tangent should be saved for another day. Following a passionate leader is easy.


I pride myself on my communication skills. You may find that hard to believe when reading this blog, but it is definitely something I feel that I do well. Now, communication is such a broad topic, there are so many different things that could be addressed, but I’ll touch on only a couple that I feel are the most important.

The first is clarity. Being able to communicate in a way that your audience understands is essential. Sometimes, it takes a different method to share the same message to multiple groups. Slang, jargon and double speak could be clouding a very important message.

Second, get rid of all barriers. Barriers can be physical, mental or emotional. Grudges are barriers. If there are interpersonal issues hindering your ability to be a leader, those need to be resolved immediately. Open your door. Take people out to lunch just because. Build a relationship. Not quite a friendship (unless you’re able to separate work & personal life), but a relationship nonetheless.


Humility is quite possibly the most important trait of all. Humility goes a long way in building respect. Show respect and earn respect. I’m not really sure there’s much else to say here. To me, it’s common sense.

Exactly, it’s common sense!

I’m sure many of you read this and thought “ummm, you just plagiarized about every leadership book out there.” I did. But why are there still so many quality people not stepping up and being leaders? Why are current leaders failing?

Why are there so many books on leadership anyway? Granted, professional development should be encouraged, but the basics? Why do these continually get set aside for process, ego and the bottom line? It seems to me that if you are an effective leader by doing a few basic things, the rest falls into place without much work at all. Too many people do too many things backwards. Leadership is one of them.

Looking Up

Things are getting back to normal. This self-employment thing is awesome if you can get your clients to pay. It’s such a difference going from consistent, salary-based income to invoice and wait.

I have so much going on and therefore so much to say, but I think I’ll keep this short. I’m still trying to figure out what is really going to be. I know it will be more than a blog, but I’m still not entirely sure what exactly I want to say with it. Personal? Who cares about my personal ramblings? Op-Ed? Maybe, but I don’t think I’m that in tune with my words that I could have anything worth reading. Technical? Easy, but I’m sure you can find many smarter people than I out there. I’ll try to keep something current going and we’ll just see how it evolves.

Stay tuned. New ideas coming every day.