7 Characteristics of Tools and the Importance of Tools

Editor’s note: welcome to the new series on tools for the transition.

The ability to use tools is one of the characteristics that make us human. It is Tools2impossible to over-emphasize their importance. They are the third pier of the Change Agent Foundation and I regularly compare them to the sails of a sailing ship. Tools are rarely useful all the time, you must choose the tool that is best fit for purpose and know how to use it. Some of them can be set on auto-pilot and monitored; others are extensions of our hands and have little or no function when we are not using them. 

A tool is something that saves time and/or effort. Tools even enable capabilities that would not be possible without the tool. Tools tend to be specific-use. A few tools that are multipurpose tend to be called the “Swiss Army knife of …”.

Characteristics of Tools

1.       Tools save time. Saving time and effort is liberating. We all have the same 24 hours in a day so those people that make best use of tools accomplish more and tend to have more free time. That is a win/win!

2.      Tools “automate” the boring, tedious tasks – increasing the quality of our time.

3.      Tools lead the development of other tools that were not even conceivable. Stuart Kauffman calls this the adjacent possible. The simplest example is the wheel. Could ancient man have dreamt of a cart, chariot or even a wheel barrow before the wheel was invented? Computer tools are even more susceptible to the principle of the adjacent possible. The primitive text editor enabled an entire group of tools collectively known as the Office Suite.

There are more tools than could possibly be mentioned here (actually, new ones are likely being created faster than they can be listed). Here is a list of tool categories, organized by purpose. A few from each one belongs in your personal tool set.

Types of Tools

General or basic tools are the ones that almost everyone needs. 21st century education should be in large part about getting these tools in as many hands (and minds) as possible.

Tools for organization – The object of a tool is to make tasks easier and faster. This category includes things that painlessly access your “stuff” and your ideas in both your physical and online life.

There are specific tools for each block in the Abundance pyramid. Success in creating abundance in each block is in large part about the sophistication of the tools that are highly (or freely) available.



Tools for special circumstances

There are tools that have value only in special circumstances. They fit into a couple of sub-categories:

Non-Emergency – These tools have value for specific reasons.  Winter clothing is an example. They are useful during certain months and in select climates but of no use in San Antonio in August!

Emergency – These are tools that you should have and hope to NEVER use.  Roadside flairs are an example.

Personally selected tools

For your vocation – proficiency with the “tools of your trade” is commonly a measure of professional expertise. Learning about state-of-the-art tools is one of the activities that subject matter experts must regularly do.

For fun – OK, most people would call these toys.

More characteristics of tools

4.      Tools are neutral – neither good nor evil – those intents belong to the user of the tools.

5.      Most tools can be dangerous and we must take responsibility for learning the proper and safe use of the ones we use. Examples: guns, knives, tweets.

6.      Evgeny Morozov pointed out that ICT tools that liberate can also repress. The same tools behind a Google search can create barriers to information in the hands of a totalitarian state.

7.      Tools become obsolete. They wear out. Better tools are developed for the same purpose. Each individual must make choices about retiring obsolete tools. Sometimes the newest bells and whistles simply do not make any difference to the individual user. Other times, replacing a favorite old tool because the new one is clearly better is difficult.

Next week, we will focus on tools for learning in the 21st Century.

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