Feature Rich vs Skill Set Poor

"Feature Rich" is almost an oxymoron

The term Feature Rich is an interesting one, particularly as it pertains to our digital tool set. In fact it sparks the recollection of when I vividly learned the difference between two major benchmarks that apply to both digital and physical tool sets: "feature rich" and its counter part, "skill set poor".

In February 2001 I posted this in a Computer Aided Design forum. It was in response to the then comparisons of some different CAD applications, and what constituted a real piece of CAD software. Somehow, for days and days, people felt 'more' was better - that 'feature rich' meant a product was better or more robust, or more professional, or whatever. It gave me pause to reflect. Here was my reply based on a humbling experience taught me by my dad. I found it late one morning (or was it early?) as I was unable to sleep and was cleaning up my computer files. Much to my surprise I still found this post lingering about and it seemed appropriate to share it here.

My father was a gifted carpenter - a master carpenter and builder. He had many tools, of all shapes and sizes, quality, make and complexity. But the simplest tools were his favorite as they gave the most control for he truly knew his craft. With a keen understanding of the all the subtle nuances of his trade, and of the tools and materials he worked with, the results he produced were second to none.

I will never forget, as a 16 year old, building our cabin together (more him than I to be sure) where I learned a hard and embarrassing lesson. A scrap of sand paper forced me to swallow my pride. With every swing of my real tool (a 28 oz framing hammer) I would bend another nail or take 6 swings to drive one home!

And I cursed the world!

All the while dad swung his simple tool, a 16 oz finishing hammer, in silence . Three strokes and every nail was home , straight and true. Sensing what could only be described as blind rage after hours of frustration I threw my hammer into the brush claiming I needed a better hammer. I wasn't stupid, surely I could pound a nail! After dad retrieved the wayward hammer (yup, him not me to further prove his point as I would find out), he offered an exchange. Surely his hammer was much better as evidenced with my own eyes by his performance with it! I eagerly accepted and immediately bent another nail. Much to my delight, dad also missed on his first stroke as he glanced off the side of the nail! Retribution! I was right! It was the hammer! With a silent smile, he looked at me and took a small scrap of old, ratty, sawdust covered sandpaper from his apron and lightly brushed the hammer's head. Taking aim, two strokes and the nail was home. Then again, this time looking at me not the nail, two strokes and another one was home, straight and true.

And I cursed the world!

I swallowed what little pride I had left and gave him back his finishing hammer. I had come to the realization - much to my disappointment - that the magic clearly wasn't in the hammer. Yes, it took three swings instead of two to drive a framing nail home but he could swing it all day, and all night (and often did). He simply liked it as it was lighter and easier to handle and skill and technique made up for any minor deficiencies the tool itself might have presented. This same hammer that he used for framing was used for fine finishing cabinetry, oak mantle pieces, book cases, you name it. Sure, he had the power nailers, air guns you name it, but those "feature rich" tools were no substitute for a "poor skill set".. The simple fact was my then lack of skill, no matter how good the tool, always produced inferior results.

So now, when I think I need a better tool (be it physical or digital) with more bells and whistles, I stop and look carefully at the situation. Then I look at dad's hammer sitting on my book case next to my office chair. Then I reach for a piece of sand paper. More often than not I learn something new about what I already have or learn where my own skill set needs to improve first.

After all...The Magic Isn't in the Wand... it's in the Magician