Dec 2, 2011

Importance of tools

Quite often I hear an opinion that tools do not matter. If the person is good at his work, he will do it well with any tools. Well, this is both true and false.

When tools do not matter

When I was in school, I went to a photography class after official lessons. It was not like a school class, it was more like a community of pupil with an adult teaching us how to make photos. He owned a very good camera (6x6 cm) and we all complained that he can do good photos with his good equipment, while we can't do it with our cheap cameras.

Once he became annoyed by our complaints and took us to the outside for a three hour training in the forst. We were to photograph freely what we see and like. Some went do their work alone, our followed our teacher trying to make the same photos as he did. He gave everybody the cheapest possible camera (we had a stock of them in the class) and took one of them too.

I think you already guess the results. Nobody managed the same photos as he did. Even those, who tried to follow him, took photos from different angels, in slightly different light, with slightly different settings. He carefully framed images and waited until the light comes out of clouds to play on the spyder's network between trees. Other just shot the same place without caring what they shoot or how.
With the same tool as others, he got fantastic results while others were total junk. We did not have a reason to complain any more. I think that was a major lesson in my life. Getting the best tools does not mean you will get best results comparing to others. It is your capabilities that define the result.

When tools do matter

Two days ago I made a horizontal bar in the door frame at home for exercises. I could not do it from the first time because my electric screwdriver was about 8 years old and warned out. I had to get another one finally to finish that work. This is another important thing, which a new for a long time. You need tools adequate for your job. Being good at your work, you cannot have good results with bad tools.

Getting it all together

So there are two rules that seem to contradict each other. But in fact, there is no contradiction. Let's see two edge cases:
  • Having bad tools and bad skills gives either bad result or no result.
  • Having great tools and exceptional skills produces outstanding results.
Two above are clear. Two other remaining are less clear:
  • Having bad tools but excellent skills will produce a bad to good result (depending on tools).
  • Having good tools and bad skills will never produce a good result.
The main conclusion out of this would be the following:

If you want to achieve outstanding result in your work, work on your knowledge and skills first. Get the best tool available to you later. Tools are important but secondary. You and your skills are the most important.

You can also look at it from a different angle: you can get new tools fairly easy (they are usually available). But you cannot get new decent skills as easily as you can get tools. So focus on skills first.

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