Pencil or Swiss Army® knife?

GadgetRuminating on Toby’s “Are you a tool?” caused me to start lollygagging down a different path of thought. Because, in many regards, we’re all tools. In some fashion or another. In some applications. And I’m not just saying that because I want to call Toby a “tool.” Although in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that likely has something to do with it.

Still, to get back to my point, we’re all tools. And, as such, I think it’s important to remember what tool you’re trying to become.

On each end of the tool spectrum, there sit the pencil and the Swiss Army® knife, respectively.

The Swiss Army knife. Jack-of-all-trades. Ready to do anything. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of applications.

But how often do the majority of those applications get used?

That’s right. Never.

The Swiss Army knife seems like it should be valuable, because it claims to do so many different things. And people like having them around.

But they rarely use them. Instead they’re relegated to the dark, dust-gathering recesses of the First Aid Kit or the jockey box.

Now, think of the lowly pencil.

No registered trademark. No multi-use functionality. A pencil pretty much does what a pencil does. It does one thing, and it does it exceptionally well. Without frills.

And it gets to do that all of the time. Much, no doubt, to the ultimate Zen-like pleasure of the pencil.

We’re always picking up pencils. We want them laying around our desk, just in case. We need them in our lives.

The Swiss Army knife seems useful. The pencil has a use. The Swiss Army knife could do practically anything well. The pencil does one solitary thing exceptionally well–better, in fact, than anyone else.

Interesting distinctions. Worth considering.

(And, for you Good to Great types, feel free to use my handy dandy Good-to-Great decoder ring. Swiss Army knife = Fox. Pencil = Hedgehog.)

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Founder and editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Can vs. Should, Career, Perspective. Bookmark the permalink.

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