Tools versus Practices – lessons from DIY

I recently organised my DIY tools at home. For far too long they had been stuffed in a cupboard under the stairs which not only made it really difficult to find anything but hurt my back every time I crawled in to retrieve them. The net result was that I ended up grumpy before I’d even started a job  that I didn’t want to do in the first place. Now though, I have turned a corner and found a dedicated space to hang the tools. It means that I no longer have to stoop and crawl under the stairs and I can instantly see what I am looking for – screwdrivers, hammers, that weird clamp thing that I’m not sure what it is used for.  And what difference has all of this made to my DIY ability?  None what so ever.

Tools are very appealing to human beings as they allow us to do things that our bodies alone cannot do. Over thousands of years our species has achieved great things (and some abhorrent things) through the use of a variety of human-made implements.  However, in modern times it seems that our perception has become rather distorted and we have become somewhat addicted to tools.  A symptom of this, which I regularly encounter in my work, is the discounting of experiences that are potentially rich in learning because we feel we haven’t discovered a shiny new implement.

In my experience we only begin to change when we develop and commit to ongoing personal practices. Small changes to how we show up and engage with the world that, on their own, might appear to make little difference but when repeated over time have a potent, cumulative effect. In this wonderful little RSA short Simon Sinek makes a distinction between intensity and consistency, suggesting that organisations are addicted to intensity – things that are fixed in time and easily measured. Intensity might seem appealing but going to the gym once, for 9 hours straight, won’t make you fit in the same way that a stand-alone team off-site/training session/re-organisation won’t sustainably change the culture. It is only the repeated practice of going to the gym little and often that will result in improved fitness. It is only the ongoing practices and experiments within the live patterning of human relationships that will result in culture change.

The only way that my newly organised toolset will make any sustainable difference to my DIY ability will be if I commit to a regular practice of DIY.  The fact that I have no interest or desire to do this means that nothing is likely to change!

The difference between a tool and a practice is that a practice only exists when you are doing it.