einstellung-effect

Maslow’s Hammer: Understanding The Einstellung Effect

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Understanding Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer was named after prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow, who said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

In other words, a hammer is not the most appropriate tool in every situation.

But this does not stop a person (armed only with a hammer) from trying to solve different problems with the same solution.

What’s more, the person with a hammer may not consider other options and resist looking for a better alternative.

Maslow’s Hammer is a solution-based heuristic, otherwise known as a mental shortcut.

Individuals tend to use familiar tools to get what they want without first determining if the tool is right for the job.

This is also true of a newly acquired skill, where the individual tends to believe the skill can be applied almost anywhere.

In business, Maslow’s Hammer can manifest in leaders who persist with ineffective leadership styles that no longer work in the present environment.

It is also occupation-specific.

For example, surgeons believe surgery is the best choice.

Psychiatrists believe medication is optimal, while psychologists believe in cognitive behavioral therapy above anything else.

Why does Maslow’s Hammer occur?

To explain the mechanisms behind Maslow’s Hammer, consider these two factors:

Déformation professionnelle

A French term describing a cognitive bias where people tend to view the world through the lens of their profession.

Although we touched on this in the previous section, it’s important to note that individuals with a certain area of expertise also try to apply their specific skill-sets to non-related contexts.

Einstellung effect

Another cognitive bias from the German word for “attitude.”

This effect explains why past experiences prevent the individual from finding the best solution to a problem.

While prior problem-solving experience may be relevant to a current problem, there are no guarantees.

It is always better to approach a problem objectively and from multiple angles.

Avoiding Maslow’s Hammer

Avoiding Maslow’s Hammer means developing the ability to recognize cognitive biases in ourselves and other people.

Here are some simple ideas:

Observe the tendencies of others

Look for instances where a trusted professional offers a narrow range of solutions based on their expertise.

Observe your own tendencies

How many times have you tried to fit a square peg into a round hole? Journal your responses and note how you might do better next time.

Expand your skillset

If you are also a professional, broaden your perspectives by attending industry seminars or training sessions.

What are the best practices in your field and how many disciplines do these practices incorporate?

Ask a friend

Friends, family, and colleagues are often the best judge of whether we suffer from Maslow’s Hammer.

Some people may have difficulty in posing these questions to others for fear of reprisal, but the rewards are worth it.

Maslow’s Hammer In The Business World

The tendency to overuse tools and frameworks in the business world is pretty common.

There are several reasons for that.

One example is how entrepreneurs might use a tool like the business plan in the wrong context or understand why they are using it.

For instance, the business plan might be a great tool to pitch to investors.

However, not necessarily to execute a business strategy.

Indeed, a business plan might contain many assumptions, which are fine as investors want to understand how an entrepreneur reasons in terms of market size.

However, these assumptions might be too risky when it comes to execution.

For instance, an entrepreneur might assume that a business might work in several contexts in a business plan, but before going there, these need to be tested.

Think, for instance, what would have happened if Amazon didn’t start to execute from books and instead would have tried to expand all over the places too quickly (like Webvan did).

Thus, it’s critical to be tool and framework agnostic in the business world and understand that different tools have different purposes.

Key takeaways

  • Maslow’s Hammer is a solution heuristic causing an individual to have an over-reliance on a single tool for many different problems. It was first mentioned by prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow.
  • Maslow’s Hammer is caused by a couple of cognitive biases. The first involves individuals trying to solve problems through the lens of their specific skillset. The second bias argues that individuals will default to solving current problems based on how they solved past problems.
  • Maslow’s Hammer can be avoided by developing an awareness of cognitive biases at play in ourselves and others. Broadening one’s personal and professional perspectives is also very effective.

See Also:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

convergent-vs-divergent-thinking
Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

critical-thinking
Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

systems-thinking
Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

vertical-thinking
Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

einstellung-effect
Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

peter-principle
The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

straw-man-fallacy
The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

streisand-effect
The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.

Heuristic

heuristic
As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

recognition-heuristic
The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

representativeness-heuristic
The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

take-the-best-heuristic
The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Biases

biases
The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bundling Bias

bundling-bias
The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

barnum-effect
The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

first-principles-thinking
First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

ladder-of-inference
The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

six-thinking-hats-model
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

second-order-thinking
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

lateral-thinking
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

bounded-rationality
Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger-effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

occams-razor
Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

mandela-effect
The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

crowding-out-effect
The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

bandwagon-effect
The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

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