The Butter Knife and The Screwdriver

OK, we’ve all done it at one time or another.  You need a screwdriver for a particular task but the butter knife is more convenient.  Of course we all know the result when this happens; first, the butter knife gets scratched.  Second, it ruins the thread on the screw.  Third, the fit won’t be secured and finally, you, the end user, walk away with a frustrated experience.

Now, think about if this were a living breathing project with real people.    The butter knife would be feeling a lack of confidence because s/he just couldn’t do the job quite like a screwdriver.  The screwdriver would be sitting on the sidelines frustrated because the butter knife got chosen all because s/he had a closer relationship with the decision maker.  The screw, or finished project, would be deemed a failure.  And, finally, the end users would be completely dissatisfied.

This is why many situations are broken.  It is not because people don’t have valuable skillsets or they are not well intentioned.  A butter knife will NEVER be as good as a screwdriver when it comes to securing screws.  Likewise, if you were to present a screwdriver at the dinner table, it would be laughable.  But that won’t stop both the butter knife and the screwdriver from taking it completely personal and beating themselves up for the fact that they just can’t live up to the performance of the other one.

So how could a vision help?  To answer that, think about two example demands from a fictitious manager:

  1. The screw to the front door is loose and needs to be tightened
  2. The customer entrance door is wobbly; it needs to be easy to use and aesthetically pleasing to demonstrate our company’s quality which will help us reach our profitability goals

These two are very brief and simple statements but think about the difference in results.   In the first example, why not reach for a butter knife?  From the employee’s perspective, s/he has accomplished the goal in the least amount of time assuming the knife is more convenient.  And so what if the equipment is damaged after the fact?  That’s someone else’s job to replace them anyway.

Alternatively, the employee in the second example not only would take the time to reach for the screwdriver because s/he realizes that the company depends on the door to indicate the levels of the company’s quality.  But also, and just as important, the employee knows the end state and how his/her goals are aligned to it.

This is a simple example but is demonstrative of how thought, in the form of a vision, can impact the actions of individuals, groups and ultimately, a company’s results.


2 Responses

  1. Nice

  2. […] one?  This was a program where people knew whether they were a screwdriver or a butter knife (see and had no desire to be anything else.  Everyone was busy, contributing, and being recognized so […]

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