There is no doubt that good kit can help us go further, faster, higher, deeper or get closer to realising our goals. Advances in technology have created equipment that enables us to push that envelope further, to venture beyond our previously held limits.
However, this can place us between the horns of a dangerous dilemma. People are replacing skills with tools.
On the one side we have the horn of ‘over-reliance’. On equipment. It can make us hostage to its failure. And all equipment, even the most fancy, can fail when we are counting on them the most.
Fancy equipment can lull people without the skills or knowledge into situations that are beyond their ability. If that critical piece of kit fails then they have nothing to fall back on. Tempting though it might be, having an all-season mountain tent does not mean you can now go out, above the treeline and pitch on a ridge above the North Col. Having a puffy down-filled sub-zero sleeping bag does not mean a confident wander into the Taiga late in the third season. Having a fancy GPS does not mean you should book a solo-trip into the deepest jungle. And having an uber axe does not mean you can fell a forest for firewood, in a blink, after dark.
When that poorly pitched tent blows away during the unforseen storm, when that puffy down gets drenched in the middle of the night, that GPS goes missing from the rucksack pocket you last checked five miles back and that gucci axe has slipped in your tired twilight grasp and split your kneecap…you will need to call upon a different toolchest, one of skill, knowledge and the right attitude, to pull you out of that sticky situation.
Fancy kit does not make you better. It does not make you go farther, faster, higher or deeper. It might tempt you to try. But only if you have the skills and knowledge may it gift you the chance. It might even put you at greater risk. You see, having ventured into the wild places, passed the point of no return, equipment will be no substitute and its true cost will weigh heavily upon you when it fails. Remember, just as someone with the skills, knowledge and right attitude is likely to be able to turn a defeat into a victory or a mess into a masterpiece don’t ever think that someone with poor skills and knowledge and the wrong attitude, even with the fanciest kit, can ever have more than an outside chance of pulling success out of the hat of disaster.
If over-reliance on kit is one horn of the dilemma then the other is what Hugh MacLeod talks about in his book ‘Ignore Everybody’. Hugh talks about the concept of hiding behind ‘pillars‘. A pillar being a psycological barrier that interferes with our work. Great people do not rely on unnecessary pillars. However, we have programmed ourselves – possibly due to our exposure to consumer culture – with the almost subliminal messaging that to do a good job we need the best tools. Even I have caught myself on more than one occoasion saying, ‘Buy once. Buy well’.
But this is precisely the problem – we feel the need to surround ourselves with pillars. The truth is that to do a great job then we need to develop our skill and our knowledge. By placing this pillar in front of us it diverts us away from improving these and places the placebo – the pillar – or tool – at the centre of our focus for improvement.
Fancy kit acts as a barrier for improving skill and knowledge.
The best approach would be to try and remove the need for these pillars. To catch ourselves at the moment we are thinking of putting that pillar in place. To ask ourselves if we really could achieve a better outcome by developing the skill instead. Once you have developed the skills, the knowledge and the right attitude then we can ask ourselves if we really need that pillar or shiny piece of kit.
And by then you will also be better placed to make a sound judgement about what it is you really need and what you don’t.