Search for eResources by keyword
More than just a hammer

Everyone has seen the thunder god Thor wield his mighty hammer, Mjöllnir, as a symbol of his power, but there is a catch… Only the worthy will be able to lift this magnificent tool, forged in the heart of a dying star. Regardless of how strong other gods and mortals may think they are, they are usually unable to wield this impressive weapon. Because Thor is better known for brawn than brains, he often resorts to swinging his trusty mallet every which way when trying to solve a problem. The problem is, that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Abraham Maslow most certainly hit the nail on the head when he proposed the concept commonly referred to as the “law of the instrument”. It refers to the over-reliance or dependence on a favourite or familiar tool. 

What if I only have a hammer?

Consider your favourite ICT tool. This is your hammer. Oftentimes, people are overwhelmed by the number of tools available and will simply give up before taking on a new or challenging project. This is where innovation is smothered before it even has a chance to shine, burn, and ignite a series of thoughts and actions that may have transformed the way the problem could have been solved. We need to ask ourselves what we have at our disposal and evaluate the possible applications of whichever tool is available. Something as basic as word processing tools can be used to encourage collaboration, gather and evaluate data and elevate the presentation of one’s findings. If that’s your hammer, challenge yourself to either diversify the applications of that tool or become an innovator that applies that tool in a previously unseen manner. 

The Latin innovatus refers to introducing something new. Even a seemingly simple tool can always be improved upon, refined, amplified, specialised or utilised in an alternative way. We need to evaluate which aspects of the familiar tools at our disposal are most useful and which could possibly be completed more efficiently or easily with an alternative approach or tool. What we are essentially doing, is evaluating our own thought processes in order to ascertain where we can improve our skills or the use of an existing tool. To a certain extent, it takes the pressure off the one who wields the hammer – find renewal in that with which you are comfortable. This gives us the courage to explore new tools when we have exhausted the applications of that on which we have come to rely.

What if I borrowed from someone else’s toolbox?

People are usually hesitant to commit to the unfamiliar. The cautious among us do not rush headlong into new fads but prefer to observe from afar, eventually deciding whether a new idea is worth the hype that surrounds it. An alternative to jumping on every new bandwagon that comes along is to consult those already in the know. When we are open to learning from others (or the mistakes of others), the approaches and skills we are exposed to can exponentially multiply our capacity for problem-solving. Because we are creatures of habit, seeing someone else successfully utilise a new or unfamiliar tool, could be just the push that we need to leave our comfort zone… a carpenter's shop filled with hammers. There is great value in shared and collective knowledge. We must strive to surround ourselves with people from whom we can learn, and who can learn from us. Borrowing from the toolbox of another is a way in which we can diversify our skills and approaches.

Why would I throw away a perfectly good hammer?

With so many new tools being added to our colleagues’ workshops and toolboxes each year, it is so tempting to replace our trusty hammers with something bigger, but we must resist. We need to gradually build on what we know, improve and hone our skills, in order to teach the novice woodworkers the basics. We don’t get rid of what works; we use it as a starting point for innovation.

Even the most skilled and experienced carpenter has a hammer (or an entire range of specialised hammers) in their workshop. We are often afraid of letting go of the familiar or feel forced to change and renew, all at the cost of what we have already learned and acquired. The aim of renewal is not to replace that which works well, but to improve upon it, to optimise it. Only once we master a new tool, do we feel comfortable enough to venture into the unknown, acquiring new tools and skills.

The word “reinvention” always seems like a misnomer to me. The invention in the strictest sense of the word comes down to creating something completely new, something heretofore unseen, something never experienced or even fathomed. This is not the case when it comes to the proverbial hammer in question. Innovation, on the other hand, takes that which has been, and alters it, improves upon it, optimises it so that it functions in a new way or fulfills a new purpose, or plays a role in a new approach to an old problem. This is up to those of us playing at Thor. We are worthy… of the role of innovators.

Photos by Photo by  Ravi Palwe and Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash 

Nikki Potgieter

La Rochelle Primary School for Girls

2nd Runner Up, National Teaching Awards 2021 in the Technology-Enhanced Teaching and Learning Category