Tools Don’t Matter — Until They Do

Most experienced professionals would tell you tools don’t matter, while younger or less experienced people tend to believe tools are everything. After all, it’s easy to believe having top-of-the-line tools will provide a swifter path to success. And, let’s be honest, they’ll make us look cool in the process (which isn’t false).

There comes a point in time when tools really do matter. But it’s preceded by a period in which they don’t.

When Tools Don’t Matter

Especially when it comes to young people (I would know, I was a young person once; still sort of am), the temptation to buy into expensive new tools can be difficult to resist. The truth, though, is that expensive tools, aside from being expensive, have another barrier to entry: they’re often far more complex than their less-expensive counterparts.

  1. The learning curve
  2. Interest validation

Honing Creativity

Tools don’t matter when it comes to creativity. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the game or a seasoned professional.

The Learning Curve

The truth: You don’t need a $3000 camera when you’ve never taken a photo before. All you need is your phone. Once you get good at composition, then invest in an inexpensive SLR camera and spend time getting to know how such a camera works.

Interest Validation

It would be a waste to go from never having done photography to buying a $3000 camera. Because without ever having done it, there’s no way to know if the interest will stick. A period of validation is inherent to the process of professional growth. It’s more sensible to spend this period with lesser tools than to go all-in with your wallet when you don’t know if you’ll go all-in with your heart.

When Tools Do Matter

Now let’s get to the advice that’s often ignored: when to obtain new tools. Tools matter in three different instances:

  1. Increasing productivity
  2. Fostering passion

Reaching the Next Level

The first is rather self-explanatory in light of what I wrote above. Buying expensive equipment from the outset can inhibit growth because advanced equipment has a steeper learning curve. Mastering the basics is difficult as it is; but with a tool crammed with an expansive list of options, early-stage learning can become overwhelming, even discouraging. Beginning with a tool that has fewer options lowers the barrier to entry tremendously.

Increasing Productivity

New tools matter when your productivity is suffering under the capability of your current tools.

Fostering Passion

Sometimes, buying a new tool doesn’t have to do with learning or productivity. Sometimes, investing in a new tool just to have a new tool is the right move to make. This is why it’s important to have a savings account, so that you can pull from that pool to foster your passion.

Sometimes a Tool isn’t a Thing

Tools are usually thought of as objects. Things that help us get things done. That help us create whatever we create, do whatever we do.

  • Studying online through free courses from a major university (MIT has loads of them).
  • Attending a conference.
  • In-person bootcamp or trade school (there are lots of companies offering demanding 8–12 week courses for learning new skills).
  • Gaining new insights by reading books written by experts in your industry (audiobooks are great too).
  • Volunteering.

Considering New Tools

So how do you know when it’s time to invest in new tools? Weigh the costs and benefits of obtaining them. Make a list that compares the cost of the tool with the cost of your time. How much time are you losing with your current tool? How much time will you gain with a new tool? What new options will be granted to you by making the investment? Are those options necessary right now?

Thanks for reading!

This article first appeared on my website at brandonsmith.work.

Designer, writer, and photographer dwelling in Los Angeles.

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