Display of Various Tools

Michelangelo’s Hammer

Learn to Enjoy the Tools of Your Craft and, by Doing So, Ask Yourself: “Deep Down Am I Consuming or Producing?”

The tools we use along with our knowledge of process (and let’s not forget attitude) combine to form a magical thing we like to call “know-how”. It is our capacity to create stuff and generally get things done to a standard. This is true on every level of human existence throughout the course of our life.

When it comes to making sense of complex systems, the same skill-set can also be described as navigation or agency. In this context, our ability to access and use tools effectively can be transformative, both personally and systemically. It calls for a shift in what we consider to be the nature and purpose of the tools available to us. That’s essentially what this blog is about: self-efficacy and the relationship between people and tools. 

At the risk of oversimplifying, we define “tools” as one of 3 indissoluble domains that combine when humans collaborate to influence complex systems. For now, treat the model below as a useful rule of thumb as opposed to a hard and fast rule. In this case, tools are simply any artefact or natural object that help us make sense of what we’re doing and/or achieve the desired outcome. Using any tool over time necessarily becomes an exercise in learning. That’s why we can’t pick up a guitar for the first time and expect to play it like Jimmy Hendrix. We can, however, expect to get better at it given the right amount of practice. 

Simplified Whole System Model

People Process Tools


A 1000 years from now the digital human will still sing and dance, and feel the need to make stuff

The digital revolution has given us unprecedented access to increasingly sophisticated tools. Add to that relatively low procurement cost compared to just a decade ago. You could say, the opportunity to effect system change and tackle some of life’s most wicked issues has never been greater. On a personal level, the same phenomenon translates as an unprecedented era for lifelong learning and self-expression. These are indeed interesting times for the curiously minded.

When it comes to the arts and sport, we can and should extend the definition of “tools” to the physical body and its innate capabilities. So musicality, literacy and movement also fall into that intersectional “sweet spot” between people, tools and process. While these activities are undoubtedly powerful examples of human “know-how”, they are also the basic building blocks of health and well-being. You could say our relationship with tools is the currency of human connectedness. Because the human body is of itself a living system that exists within infinite layers of need and complexity. So anything you like doing (or are good at) could be defined as your personal craft; your unique opportunity to engage with and contribute to the world around you. All the more reason to master the available tools, right? Here is fable number 5.

System Fable# 5: Michelangelo’s Hammer

A wealthy Florentine merchant went to see Michelangelo in his studio and asked if he would tutor her daughter who wanted nothing more in life other than to be a sculptress. Michelangelo agreed without hesitation. The merchant looked around Michelangelo’s studio and beheld the impressive array of works in progress. Her gaze was caught by a set of sculpting tools laid out neatly on a workbench.  A thought occurred. What if she could procure the great man’s tools for her daughter? She offered a generous sum for them

To her surprise, Michelangelo said she could have them for free. To ensure no stone was left unturned in the pursuit of her daughter’s ambition, the merchant offered to pay for unlimited access to the Master’s advice. Michelangelo agreed that, in addition to attending classes, the daughter could call upon him any time of the day or night if she needed his counsel. Again no charge.

A year later the merchant went to visit Michelangelo. “My daughter has the very same tools you use to sculpt your masterpieces; she attends all your classes and she has, whenever she felt stuck, called upon your advice. Why therefore has she made no progress?” she asked.

Michelangelo looked at the merchant, smiled and said, “Because of you, your daughter believes she already has all she needs to spend the rest of her life sculpting. I, on the other hand, choose to spend all my time learning to use my tools as best I can. I learn something new each passing day. My art is a by-product. This is not something I or anyone can teach your daughter. She must first find her craft within, then the tools will do the rest.”

Exploring the Perspectives

It’s easy to be seduced into thinking tools and technology make our lives easier and help us achieve more. Especially if we can call upon the service of “experts” to do the fiddly bits when things get tricky. Tools make it easier for us to travel; have stories fed to us; eat great food and do just about everything else we might wish. This means a tool is anything from the earliest man-made axe, to the algorithm that drives the voice recognition on an AI device. That’s why, after all this time, we remain perpetually attracted to the allure of “more”; “better” and “new”. We are literally surrounded by tools.

Now take a minute to think about the tools you rely on most (maybe your cell phone, car, laptop or television set). Mostly digital, right? Compare them to the ones you own but use less often like a garden-fork, kitchen knife or paintbrush? See the difference? By and large, we tend to use these omnipresent tools to consume more than we do to create.


Technology now, more than ever, offers us a choice between consuming and making – and that’s great news for our wellbeing

Despite the proliferation of digital tools and technology, the love of craft remains an intrinsic human instinct that goes back as far as the palaeolithic age. The primaeval act of using our bare hands to create something out of nothing is one of life’s miracles. We sense the need to make things deep within our core. In fact, we crave it. So as we consume more and more experiences through these new tools, are we losing our ability to create with them? Perhaps not.

A Range of Various Tools

Arts and craft are now recognised as essential components of 21st-century innovation models, sitting comfortably alongside science, technology, engineering and math.  It hasn’t always been so. In the past students were often considered to be either scientifically or artistically minded as if the two skillsets were somehow mutually exclusive. From our point of view, the most encouraging of all recent trends is the wide acknowledgement that creativity is good for our wellbeing. We’ve been involved in projects where clinicians are exploring social and creative alternatives for patients who present with mental health symptoms. We also observe in our work a trend within communities of people self-organising on an unprecedented scale around shared wellbeing activities. Though we don’t claim to have coined the phrase, we refer to this phenomenon as “Neomaking”. More often than not these activities are leading tangible outcomes in terms of community capacity; socially-minded entrepreneurialism, and even new social services and healthcare models.

So we believe it’s a good time to rethink our relationship with tools. First of all by asking ourselves the question “am I a net consumer or a net creator?” Then asking “What can I create and share?” As with any sustained innovation, there is a golden thread knitting through these developments. That thread is the opportunity for ordinary individuals to take control of their own story. Afterall a story is perhaps the oldest and most powerful tool available to us. And the thing is, we all have a story to tell.


More to explore

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The Designer’s Paradox

You can’t design guaranteed outcomes in a complex living system but you can maximise the likelihood of a good experience. The challenge

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