Golden hammer

Golden hammer
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Methods and techniques

Golden hammer is a principle also known as the law of the instrument or Maslow’s hammer. It refers to the dependence on a specific tool to perform various function. In the investments golden hammer means to depend on the particular analysis tool or viewpoint to make the decisions. When a company relies on one analytics to make strategic decisions, it is also considered to be a golden hammer (R. W. Brislin 1980).

American psychologist, Abraham Maslow described golden hammer as follows :

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (A. Maslow 1966).


“Birmingham screwdriver” is an English expression for a hammer and it refers to the habit of using one tool for different purposes. This term predates both Kaplan and Maslow (J. Green 1998).

In the periodical from 1968 called “Once a Week”, we can find the statement:

"Give a boy a hammer and chisel; show him how to use them; at once he begins to hack the doorposts, to take off the corners of shutter and window frames, until you teach him a better use for them, and how to keep his activity within bounds."

American philosopher, Abraham Kaplan was the first to record the statement of the golden hammer concept: "I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding." (A. Kaplan 1964, p. 28).

The golden hammer became popularized by Abraham Maslow who in the Psychology of Science wrote: "I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." (A. H. Maslow 1966, p.15).

Historian Robert Kagan suggested that there is an analogy to the law: "When you don't have a hammer, you don't want anything to look like a nail." Kagan used those words to explain the difference in views on the use of military force that United States and Europe have held since the end of World War II (R. Kagan 2004).

Golden hammer in computer programming[edit]

In the information technology, the concept of golden hammer was applied as anti-pattern – a programming practice to be avoided. The notion was that a familiar technology or concept is applied obsessively to many software problems. José M. Gilgado, software developer observed that in his field, developers often use well knows tools to do a completely new project with new constraints. By staying in the comfort zone, the risk is avoided. Using the same tools may mean we do not have enough arguments to make the decision as there is nothing to compare to and this limits the knowledge. To solve this problem, we should keep looking for best possible choices, even if we are not familiar with them. It relates also to a computer language with which one is unfamiliar. Gilardo observed that the product RubyMotion allows developers to “wrap” unknown computer languages into one familiar language and therefore we avoid learning them. However, this approach was criticized by Gilardo because it reinforces the habit of avoiding new tools (J. Gilardo 2014).


Author: Katarzyna Mamak