Maslow’s Hammer: Avoiding Tunnel Vision

Market Meditations | August 11, 2021

Maslow’s Hammer, describes our tendency to apply the same set of skills to every problem we encounter, even when they are not relevant. Not only does this restrict us from implementing the right solution, it can also obscure the true nature of the problem itself! In Maslow’s own words, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. We are also prone to develop a preference based merely on familiarity (this is known as the mere-exposure effect ). The issue is that these effects can lead to an overreliance on skills that we are familiar with and that have worked in the past.

If we are not careful, always applying the same tools will be disastrous for our profits. For example, if market conditions shift or if you are trying to trade on a different time frame, your once successful system may become defunct. Ultimately this cognitive failure limits our ability to creatively problem solve – regardless of what area of our life the issue is related to. So how do we avoid falling into the trap of Maslow’s Hammer?

1️⃣ Attempt to understand the core principles of a problem. Look at the problem from first principles and do not dive straight into solutions before you fully understand your problem.

2️⃣ Be self aware of your strengths and weaknesses. If you understand what you are good at, your existing tool set will likely come in handy during those moments. Applying the same tool set to areas you are weak in, is unlikely to result in a positive outcome.

3️⃣ Be curious to learn new skills. Actively ask yourself, would there be a better way to solve this problem. If the answer is yes however you do not have relevant skills, it may be the perfect opportunity to learn! Merely being open to solutions you are unfamiliar with helps mitigate the negative effects of Maslow’s Hammer.

Maslow’s hammer can lead to tunnel vision where we become unable to solve what are seemingly basic problems. Look to fully understand your problem, be curious, understand your weaknesses and you may be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.