Nobody Needs a Drill. An Analogy to Re-Imagine Business Practices

Kerrie Aman Carfagno Strategy, Sustainability

No one in this world really needs a drill.  Ever.
Usually I find absolute statements inherently false, but I stand by this one. It’s not the drill that is needed, what is needed is a ¼” hole (or whatever size the job entails). A carpenter only needs a drill because it creates what is really needed—the hole.


How often do people or corporations focus on the drill instead of the hole? Remembering to view the end goal as the hole can change everything, yet even with this knowledge, it is often easier to focus on making a better drill.
We can find positive examples of “the hole as the goal” in industry. For example, a company called Tennant (primarily a commercial floor cleaning business) realized a focus on stronger chemicals wasn’t the answer. They get floors cleaner in less time using a chemical-free machine that ionizes water, which is not only better than chemicals at destroying bacteria and viruses, it lowers both liabilities and cost.
You can call it good strategy, or being green, or socially responsible. You can also call it profitable. Or, you could recognize that focusing on that ¼” hole rather than the drill provides the perspective to discover game-changers. Most of these new approaches fit in more than one category. A solution that addresses the primary goal and meets several tertiary goals is a strong indicator that you are on the right path.
In this world we also have pollution-eating concrete, dance floors that run the sound system, and mushrooms that break down non-recyclable plastic. Airships have been designed that don’t need airports or runways, and they have 10 times the cargo space and 1/10th the fuel needs of a Boeing 747. We don’t need to spend billions on biodiesel R&D for incremental improvement when there are solutions that address the real issue.
I’m always surprised to hear about infrastructure and charging station concerns when people discuss electric cars. I lived in Canada. Cars there have heaters to keep the engine block from freezing and the fluids from gelling—electrical outlets for these are ubiquitous in parking lots. Grocery stores, malls, and coffee shops provide the electricity knowing that their customers will stay longer if the cars are plugged in. Stores in the mall vie for the charging stations to be close to their storefronts to capture the increased traffic. Why do we imagine charging stations as gas stations when we have so many existing parking spaces in places where people want you to stay a while? If you can charge your car while you grocery shop, buy shoes, or get a latte and you get the benefit of charging your car away from home, the store gets the business revenue and the community gets less pollution and increased health.
Hermann Miller, inspired by biomimicry, asked an interesting question. Do we need chemicals to dye our products when we could have structure and light interact the way it does in nature? Why not mimic how nature creates vivid color and take the added costs and liabilities out of the equation for our products?
A true look at sustainability focuses on the ¼” hole and considers a wide variety of solutions that were not originally on the table because the focus has been traditionally on the drill. True innovation and “blue ocean” game changers are realized by a focus on the ¼” hole.
Full disclosure: the author of this article still has a drill kit in the garage…. but also has a power actuated nail gun to use instead of the drill whenever possible because it meets the need and is a lot more fun.
Kerrie Aman Carfagno is pursuing her Ph.D. in values-driven leadership at Benedictine University. She teaches environmental management and marketing classes as an adjunct lecturer for John Carroll University’s MBA program.
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