Tools vs. Skills

The writer Neil Gaiman was on the Tim Ferris podcast. In the show, Tim asked Neil about his writing process and how he physically went about writing his wonderful books.

It’s a common question for authors, photographers, painters, and musicians.

Why kind of guitar does she use? What type of camera does Annie Leibovitz prefer? What kind of film is in the camera? What brand of paint did Jackson Pollock pour on the canvas? Hey Steven King: what brand of pencils do you write with?

As it turns out, Neil Gaiman uses a specific brand and model of fountain pen to hand write the first draft of a story. Not only that but a specific higher-end brand of a notebook in particular because of the quality of the paper. And he explained why he chose those items in particular.

All of this is well and good, except for the aspiring writer who then rushes out to find this type of pen and paper thinking the magic is in the tools. Or the guitarist who drops big money to have the same guitar as their hero. Or the hobby photographer who dreams of going pro, investing in a set up to bring them one step closer to Annie Leibowitz style successs.

When you see sales reps, retailers, and restaurants that are more successful than you don’t fall into the trap of thinking the tools are the cause of success.

It’s not your competitor’s iPad that is making him sell so much wine to the big retailer.

It’s not your competitor’s type of planner or kind of pen that magically gives her power to get those by the glass placements.

It’s not the kind of knives and sauté pans in the kitchen that make the hot new restaurant the hot new restaurant.

The most common myth: it’s someone’s physical attractiveness that makes them successful in sales. (The proof? I succeeded big time in sales.) How people look and/or handle themselves is a tool, not a skill. It is a tool to be conscious of for sure, but it’s not the sole reason for their success.

Skills can be made more efficient or can be amplified through good tools. Using good stemware to help sell your wine is a no-brainer because it makes your wine smell and tastes better. There is no reason to not carry your own stemware.

But it’s the skill of selling the right wine to the right account for the right reason that makes for success.

Focus on honing your skills. Use tools to amplify or magnify the skills you are building. Keep them separate in your mind and magically they both will work better for you.

(You can see the Neil Gaiman interview here:

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