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Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

The concept of "The Law of the Instrument," also known as "The Law of the Hammer," revolves around a cognitive bias that involves a dependency or inclination to use a familiar tool instead of other alternatives.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail — Abraham Maslow

Robert Kagan, in his 2003 book Of Paradise and Power, suggested a corollary to the law: "When you don't have a hammer, you don't want anything to look like a nail."

The Law of the Instrument implies that we tend to try to solve problems by limiting ourselves to the knowledge we already have.

The first recorded instance of this law was stated by Abraham Kaplan in 1964:

I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.

Later, in an article called Library Quarterly, he cited the law again, saying:

We tend to formulate problems in such a way that it seems as if the solution to them demands precisely what we already happen to have at hand.

Sharlyn Lauby has stated the following:

"We must choose the tools we work with carefully." Some tools are adaptable, while others should be used "only for the purpose they were created."

Software developer José M. Gilgado has written that this law is still relevant in the 21st century and is applicable to software development. He observed that many times "developers tend to use the same tools for completely new projects with new constraints." He blames this on "the comfort zone where you don't change anything to avoid risk. The problem with always using the same tools is that there are no arguments to choose because there is nothing to compare, while at the same time limiting your learning." He suggests that the solution is to "keep looking for the best possible alternative, even if you are not familiar with it."

While using the knowledge we already have to solve problems can help us resolve the situation we face, researching and testing possible alternatives can give us the opportunity to learn and solve problems in a different and potentially more effective way.