Day 3: Understand All the Tools Available to You

Most people like to jump right in – they want to start building something, start moving forward, start achieving ‘progress’. The unfortunate thing that by starting too early, you can either end up achieving progress at a slower rate, or actually hurting yourself – moving forward in the wrong direction can be worse than not moving at all.

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “if I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six of them  sharpening my axe.” I think that should be the same for someone starting a business, especially a technology business. There are so many tools available to a developer that many projects are already completed – there is no need to start from scratch. The analogy is much better conveyed with the example of building a house.

Building a House

Designing a product is like building a house. You have a rough idea of what you want – maybe three bedrooms, two bathroom, and  large living room. However, once you start building, that’s where the actual discovery process begins. You have to lay a strong foundation, build a good frame, and take each step in the appropriate sequence.  Some things might be new to you – perhaps you have never built a house before – so it is very important to understand what is available to you, and what you have to create yourself.

Now, imagine it is your first time building a house. Before you started, you would want to see what tools you have at your disposal. Maybe the first tool you come across is a handsaw – used to cut the wood that will build the frame of the house. Wouldn’t it be foolish if you stopped there and said, “clearly, this tool can do it all – cut wood, smoothen concrete, and sand down walls – I will use it for everything!” A much better idea would be to continue looking at all the other available tools, then decide what’s best. Find out which tool is best for cutting, which tool is best for laying the foundation, and which tool is best for the finishes.

Building a product is the same way – you want to make sure that you are using the best tool available, not the one you happened to stumble upon first. That’s the difference between hacking your way through a jungle with a pocket knife or a machete – both will get you there, one will just take a lot longer than the other.

Don’t Spend All Your Time on Tools

The obvious caveat of this is that you can’t spend all your time deciding what tools to use. The quote above says six out of the eight hours, not eight out of the eight hours. Sooner or later, you have to decide on what you are going to use, just make sure you put a reasonable amount of time into that exploration period.

In the end, choosing the right tool, and taking the time to explore alternative options, can save you headaches and time. Make sure you have the right tools in your hands, that way you can cut down that tree a little bit faster.

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