Law of the instrument

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow's hammer, Gavel or a golden hammer[a] is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."[1]


The first recorded statement of the concept was Abraham Kaplan's, in 1964: "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."[2]

Maslow's hammer, popularly phrased as "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" and variants thereof, is from Abraham Maslow's The Psychology of Science, published in 1966.[1]

It has also been called the law of the hammer,[3] attributed both to Maslow[4] and to Kaplan.[5] [6] The hammer and nail metaphor may not be original to Kaplan or Maslow. The English expression "a Birmingham screwdriver" meaning a hammer, references the habit of using the one tool for all purposes, and predates both Kaplan and Maslow by at least a century.[7] The concept has also been attributed to Mark Twain, though there is no documentation of this origin in Twain's published writings.[8]

Under the name of "Baruch's Observation," it is also attributed[9] to the stock market speculator and author Bernard M. Baruch.

One application of Law of the Instrument is the usage of antipsychotic drugs. During Maslow's era, only stelazine and thorazine were available, so every mental illness was treated as if it were a psychosis, as in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Related concepts[edit]

Other forms of narrow-minded instrumentalism include: déformation professionnelle, a French term for "looking at things from the point of view of one's profession", and regulatory capture, the tendency for regulators to look at things from the point of view of the profession they are regulating.

The notion of a golden hammer, "a familiar technology or concept applied obsessively to many software problems", has been introduced into the information technology literature in 1998 as an anti-pattern: a programming practice to be avoided.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ By analogy with silver bullet.


  1. ^ a b Abraham H. Maslow (1966). The Psychology of Science. p. 15. 
  2. ^ Abraham Kaplan (1964). The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co. p. 28. 
  3. ^ Richard W. Brislin (1980). "Cross-Cultural Research Methods: Strategies, Problems, Applications". In Irwin Altman, Amos Rapoport, and Joachim F. Wohlwill. Environment and Culture. Springer. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-306-40367-5. 
  4. ^ Bruce Klatt (1999). The ultimate training workshop handbook. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-07-038201-5. 
  5. ^ Timothy J. Cartwright (1990). The management of human settlements in developing countries: case studies in the application of microcomputers. Taylor & Francis. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-415-03124-0. 
  6. ^ Winther, Rasmus Grønfeldt (2014). James and Dewey on Abstraction. The Pluralist 9 (2), p. 20
  7. ^ Green, Jonathon (1998). Dictionary of Slang. Cassell. 
  8. ^ Thomas J. McQuade (2006). "Science and Markets as Adaptive Classifying Systems". In Elisabeth Krecké, Carine Krecké, and Roger Koppl. Cognition and Economics. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7623-1378-5. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ William J. Brown, Raphael C. Malveau, Hays W. "Skip" McCormick, and Thomas J. Mowbray (1998). AntiPatterns: Refactoring Software, Architectures, and Projects in Crisis. Wiley. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-471-19713-3.