Why we tend to apply a skill/tool anywhere


Law of the Instrument

, explained.

What is the Law of the Instrument?

The law of the instrument principle states that when we acquire or are given a specific tool/skill (such as computer programming), we tend to be influenced by its function and utility – leading us to see opportunities to use that tool/skill everywhere.


Also known as “The Golden Hammer” or Maslow’s Hammer. The law of the instrument was originally defined by Abraham Kaplan in 1964 and published by Abraham Maslow in 1966.

Although this can expand our worldview in innovative ways, it can become a cognitive bias if we only approach problems using that one tool/skill. In short, the law of the instrument influences us to use one tool for all purpose and can be summed up with Maslow’s phrase, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”


For example, when you learn a new programming trick you may use it in most of your codes – which may result in failure to seek out other (potentially more efficient) alternatives.