Nov 062006

"Man with a hammer" syndrome is coined by Charlie Munger (billionaire investor/wise man) off the saying, "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." It’s a major reason why he thinks (and I agree) that smart people make stupid mistakes. You can read more about his 24 Standard Causes of Human Misjudgment here. If it was up to me, I’d make that speech required reading for everyone.

This blog is about a "Man with hammer" tendency that’s caused by people being too logical. You read that right. It’s interesting, I wanted to write a blog about it today but to my surprise, I opened up my RSS feeder to read this blog. It’s similar and a subset of what I wanted to talk about.

Simply, I believe that logic has become the "hammer" of many people. Some people go so far as to filter their emotions through their rational minds, so that they will still feel the emotions but now somehow sanction their existence. Of course, this assumes that logic is a tool, and it is. In the sphere of problem solving and understanding the world and communicating to others, it has no equal. However, to try to use it on emotions or situations in which other tools are called for is erroneous, at the least and idiotic at the most.

Assume there were a number of different situations that called for different tools. In building a house, you need many different tools. You can’t get by with just a hammer; you also need a saw, a drill machine, a level and a host of other tools. Similarly, in life, there are different tools for different situations. So, what other mysterious tools does one need? One of the other ones is intuition.

Logic and intuition are two of the biggest ways to solve problems. Some problems are solved logically (e.g. math problems in school), while others are solved by a intuition and flashes of intuitive insight. How many times have you just gotten the answer to something, perhaps after sleeping on it? Other situations in which intuition works, is when to make quick intuitive decisions "in the heat of the moment". Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is filled with examples where intuition was the right course of action (such as with the US Army wargames) and the wrong one (the unfortunate story of the black guy in the Bronx). The important thing is to recognize that we make a lot of choices intuitively (the Getting Things Done philosophy is a nice melding of both logic and intuition) and how and why that is such. Read Blink, read the 24 Standard Causes of Human Misjudgment and recognize that these processes are going on inside YOU right now. If you simply ignore the power of intuition and try/claim to use logic in situations where intuition is the better choice, you will be trying to cut a piece of wood with a hammer.

I’m sure books have been written on the power of intuition and I have yet to find them. And, I’m sure, more books could be written about the power of intuition and how to use it properly.

By the way, some of you might be wondering what I feel is the place of emotions in this "tool kit". For that, I’d say they’re measuring devices. Joy measures your level of happiness caused from inside yourself. Anger measures your feeling of indignation and injustice. Again, I don’t recommending blindly using your emotions to make decisions for you (decisions made and things said in anger are rarely the best ones). However, recognize that you will have to live with your emotions until you learn how to create a state of joy and peace within you that cannot be influenced from the outside world. Many people do things because of simple pain-pleasure responses. Pavlovian conditioning is used to train dogs (bad dog/here’s a treat) and, unfortunately, it works on humans, too. Sometimes, even the fear of pain is enough to scare people away. That’s why courage is necessary.

Anyhoo, I feel emotions are measuring devices and they should not cloud or influence my judgment beyond what I think is reasonable. That’s why I am trying to weed out negative emotions and thoughts. You can, too. Good luck!


PS I hope that made coherent sense. I’m not all here this morning.

  3 Responses to ““Man with a hammer””

  1. i’ve already made my feelings clear to you on the whole matter of ‘clearing negative emotions.’ if you just brush them off, then you’re not listening to your intuition, are you? while i believe that all feelings should be accounted for, but even if you can’t all the time, i do not believe that you randomly feel anything. something caused it. it’s your job to figure it out. until you do, you shouldn’t go about weeding out emotions because then you’re just ignoring the bigger problem. intuition is just a fancy way of saying your subconcious is picking up on something you don’t conciously see. it’s not that you can’t see it, it’s just you don’t. so if your intuition bugs you, it’s like a wake up call to take another look around and pick out what it is that’s changed. there is no superfluous thought or emotion. there’s panic. there’s frustration. there’s obsession. and while negative, a bigger issue must be addressed before they go away. it’s almost like ripping off the top part of the weed and leaving the root there to grow back. the root isn’t the fact that it’s negative. the root is the stress of the unknown change in your life that makes you negative.
    anyway, that was a long comment.
    – samantha
  2. I think we both agree, but on different things. I agree with you about finding the cause of the emotion. But when I find the cause, I let go of the emotion, because it serves no purpose to me. Let’s take an example.

    I am frustrated by someone right now. It’s a constant sort of frustration. I can do very little or nothign to change them to stop causing my frustration. When I feel frustrated, I recognize that is because of them (not really, it’s my feelings towards them, but you know what I mean). Then, I’ll let the feeling of frustration go. It’s done its job, it’s let me know that this situation isn’t really ideal for me.

    Other people, however, won’t let things like that go. They’ll stew all day about the frustration. They’ll whine and complain about it. They’ll continue to make themselves feel bad long after the actual source of the frustration feelings (which is really themselves, but let’s say it’s someone else) is gone. I didn’t really write this post for you, I wrote it for those people. I wrote it (subtely) for her.

  3. can’t really edit that last comment. the last line should read "I wrote it (subtely) for a friend."

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