There is a saying by Abraham Maslow (familiar to Psychology students as the creator of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs“) that can be summarized, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

English: Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Resized,...

English: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Resized, renamed, and cropped version of File:Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.svg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This saying is attributed to both Abraham Kaplan (1964) and Abraham Maslow (1966.) Either way, even if you’re not familiar with the phrase itself, the concept is certainly one that most people embrace know:

Familiar tools create familiar solutions.

Are they the best solutions? Not necessarily.

I’ve known people that reach for a cast iron frying pan to pound in a nail, because they don’t own a hammer or don’t know where it is.

Although the end result may be that the nail eventually gets whacked into place, the collateral damage caused by using the wrong tool for the job may have caused an entirely new set of problems.

When you’re unsure of the capabilities of a tool, or are convinced that your return on investment may not be worth it, you’re relegating the tool that you have into the role of a hammer. While this may work in some circumstances, jobs that require subtlety finesse or delicate maneuvering may suffer irreparably from the more direct approach that a pounding delivers.

This saying is attributed to actual physical tools, but is also a metaphor for solutions to problems one encounters in other aspects of their lives.

When confronted with an issue that requires a more precise instrument such as an investigator, please keep certain things in mind:

1) An investigator is not a hammer. Despite what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies, an ethical licensed investigator is not going to give you information, knowing you will use it to gain revenge, bury your enemies, or prove to your children that your ex-spouse is a jerk.

2) If you call a repairman to fix the drywall after you took a cast iron pan to the nail that was sticking out of the wall, there is no getting around the fact that the bill will be costly and even a professional repair will not be seamless. So too, will a licensed investigator be hampered by having to come in to “repair” a situation in which a client has performed their own surveillance (and been ‘burned’) or let their now-ex employee know there is an investigation being conducted on their background. In cases like this, discretion is the better part of valor. The nice thing is that if you are not sure, you can always consult with a licensed investigator first.

3) Just as there are specialized tools of the trade, there are specialized investigators for the job. You don’t have to be able to specify exactly what you require for services when you consult with an investigator. All you have to do is pick up the phone and speak with a licensed investigator, and explain your problem. A licensed investigator will be able to act as an objective sounding board, and will be able to ask specific questions that will help you pinpoint what you need or desire as results.

When you need a screwdriver, it would be a mistake to reach for the hammer. Don’t overlook the private investigator’s toolbox when it comes to your specific problem.