The Tool Belt Approach

Firstly, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged.

I’ve been busy.

My wife and I bought a two family home in South Medford, Massachusetts a couple months ago. It’s a nice little place, in a walkable neighborhood with access to transit, and it’s only 4.5 miles from downtown Beantown (no one here calls it Beantown). The home, as they say, is a “fixer-upper” and both units need lots of work. My wife and I have been spending every waking moment doing yard work, rebuilding our first floor unit’s kitchen and bathroom, painting walls, doing demolition in our basement, working with our plumber and electrician as they rewire and replumb the entire home, negotiating the city hall permitting process, Et cetera, Et cetera, Et cetera…

During the past couple months not only have I learned a ton of new homeowners stuff, but I have acquired a ton of new tools (consignment tool shops are the best place ever). Thankfully, I grew-up in a very handy family so I’m not totally in the dark when it comes to home improvement and these tools come in handy. I’ve learned that not every project needs every tool. Before I start a project I scope out what I need to get done, load up my tool belt and get to work. I don’t haul the entire toolbox (or toolboxes) to the project each time.

My tool belt is a wonderful thing. It is lightweight, I only load up what I need for the specific project, and it and forces me to think about my project and make the right planning decisions.

I see so many parallels between my tool belt project approach and what I try to do as a geo-professional.

In the spatial world we often get tied to the idea of the toolbox(es) when working on analysis projects. Toolboxes, whether geo-toolboxes or regular toolboxes, are often full of tools one doesn’t need for a specific project, and sometimes they can be full of tools we use improperly (how many of us have actually used Kriging in the right context or tried to use a flat head screw driver as a chisel?). Without proper planning – planning out a project before you even start – may cause one to use tools in their toolbox incorrectly, perhaps coming to less than a correct conclusion.

We, as geo-professionals, will be much better at what we do if we learn how to solve the problems and answer the questions related the projects we work on first, instead of trying to know how to use every tool in our toolbox. Yes, there will always be the plumbers, contractors, and electricians who have every tool that there could ever be related to their job, just as there will be those all-knowing GIS gurus. However, the vast majority of geo-professionals are those who do other things and not “all GIS, all the time.” I really believe that by using the tool belt approach we can develop a better class of geo-professionals. Understand your problem, do the research to solve it, and then load your tool belt with the proper tools to solve it. And, good, detailed geospatial analysis like good, detailed home improvement never goes as fast as it does on HGTV.

Now, where did I put my hammer?