The right tools can greatly improve your productivity. They can dramatically improve your output. They can enable you to accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible. They can help make you faster, stronger and endure longer.

Indeed, the right tools often prove to be invaluable.

Which is why all too often we get caught up in acquiring the right tools.  We assume that if we are armed with the great tools, we can solve any problem. But this is not the case…

  • A sharp scalpel, forceps and a set of scrubs doesn’t make you a surgeon.
  • A really expensive easel and set of paintbrushes doesn’t make you an artist.
  • A hammer, nails and saw doesn’t make you a carpenter.
  • A bunch of textbooks and a whiteboard doesn’t make you a teacher.
  • A video camera, laptop and editing software doesn’t make you a filmmaker.
  • A PowerPoint presentation and nice suit doesn’t make you an subject matter expert.
  • A blog, some pictures and bunch of links doesn’t make you a thought leader.

Tools are problem specific. They serve a defined purpose for an explicit need. Therefore, a broad collection of tools—no matter how advanced or technologically superior—is of no use if you cannot identify the problem and subsequent need.  That requires knowledge and perhaps some experience…

  • We learned to eat with our hands before our parents gave us a fork and spoon.
  • We learned to walk barefoot before we donned a pair of $100 Nike running shoes.
  • We learned to talk in sentences before ponying up $300 for an iPhone.
  • We learned to read before dropping $260 on a Kindle.

So the next time you consider acquiring a new tool, ask yourself “is there some knowledge I should acquire first?” Odds are that option is a lot cheaper—if not altogether free—and will provide a lot more value in the future.

Of course, buying a tool is a lot less work than learning something new. Which is why so many people will continue to focus on acquiring tools rather than knowledge. While this is unfortunate for our society, it creates an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack.

Because as the popular phrase asserts, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.”