PMI® Switzerland Chapter

To a person with a hammer all challenges look like nails

To a person with a hammer all challenges look like nails

Geetanjali Bhat

Author: Geetanjali Bhat, PMP


To a person with a hammer, all challenges look like nails

“To a person with a hammer, all challenges look like nails”. What a thought-provoking quote on our perspectives. At this evening’s event, speaker John Carton shared great insights on how we can face challenges with different perspectives. "Think and Analyse" is the need of the hour!

Generally, people learn a technique that they use for all problems. Sometimes we see only different solutions to fix the problem rather than actually analyse the problem.

John explained this beautifully through an interactive session.

If we are compelled to do something, then we do it out of conviction and not because its required to be done. We go further and we do an extra mile when we are convinced about something.

He spoke about NEMAWASHI decision-making to actually “go around the root” of a problem. NE means “from root” and mawashi MAWASHI means “to go around”. When we analyse our decision-making techniques and take on a different route, we can achieve a better solution.


John mentioned that “sometimes chances of success are just 30% and the reason for success is most importantly PEOPLE”.

Too many times we do have a great solution that is easy and simple to work on, but we tend to be so engaged and preoccupied in achieving success in a short time that we fail to see the simple and easy solutions which can be achievable. Many people tend not to take the time to "pause & think".

We should consider our techniques of decision-making wisely by deciding slowly, considering alternatives and implementing rapidly. To follow this technique, we need to pause and think by taking a step back and considering all alternatives.

We put on our thinking caps when challenged with the question, ”what are alternate uses of a paperclip?” we were amazed to find so many uses of a paperclip other than its actual functional use.

The fact that time invested upfront to evaluate a problem thoroughly is repaid by a swifter implementation, brings one to a very insightful realization. When we engage time to think well, we develop more alternatives.  The more the alternatives we have evaluated and analysed the better the decisions.

This can be illustrated more through a simple example:

If a room full of people is too warm, what are the possible solutions to make the people more comfortable?

  • Open the windows--- > Windows cannot be opened
  • Have the people come out the room -> Outside its very cold

To generate the right alternatives, we have to understand the problem correctly. In this case, the AC actually may not work or the AC temperature is set too low. If another room is available, we can shift the people or we can set the right temperature of the AC.


The audience enjoyed a great knowledge sharing session when the speaker gave us some insights  to deriving the best solutions through “voice of the customer” and “true need”.

  • Analyse the voice of the customer
  • Define the true need
  • Define the measurement of success

The test measures divergent thinking or flexibility in our thinking in different areas, and gives us the ability to generate several possible solutions to a problem. Sometimes multiple brainstorming techniques give us different possibilities of best solutions.

John engaged all of us with an exercise of convergent thinking. He asked us simply, “How does one make a fire?” This exercise illustrated how we can make a long list to the most important requirement.

The audience gained great insights and knowledge from the evening’s session. As Mr. John Carton would say, “To a person with a hammer, all challenges look like nails,” but choosing the best tools from our repertoire helps us remove the nails and take the best decisions to implement the best solutions.