My wife is a photographer, right on the cusp of going professional. People who are familiar with her work constantly turn to her for advice on photography and Photoshop. They want to know what tools she uses to get the results she gets, such as what lenses and Photoshop plug-ins to use. Often they end up disappointed that their results don’t match up to hers.

The thing that they, and many people tend to miss is the fact that the tools can only get you so far. Just because you may use the best tools available, it doesn’t mean that you know how to take advantage of those tools. It takes practice using the tools, experience in choosing which to use for the appropriate situation, dedication to the efforts of producing quality results with those tools, and obviously the natural ability of the user.

I remember hearing a story about a woman who threw a cocktail party for friends, and during the night she played her baby grand piano for her guests. She performed beautifully, and at the end of the evening, one woman came up to her and said, “I’d do anything to be able to play like you.” The host replied, “No you wouldn’t.” The guest was taken aback, and asked what she meant by that remark. The host explained that it took many years of dedication and practice for her to play like she does, and that the guest didn’t really mean what she said when she claimed she’d do “anything” to play like her.

Just because you’d like to be accomplished at a certain talent or task, and just because you obtain all the best tools to help you get there, it does not guarantee success. You can’t automatically reach your goal without learning how to use the available tools, learning about your capabilities in the process, mixing the ingredients in just the right way, and producing the right results.

On The Business of Software blog, someone asked if there’s a risk in revealing the tools they use to produce a successful product, and if it would give a competitor an edge in doing so. My point is that just knowing what tools to use will not make someone a stronger competitor. It’s no real secret what type and size bat Babe Ruth used throughout his career, and anyone could have gotten their hands on a replica or his actual bat, but that does not mean they’d get the same results as The Babe if they did so.

Likewise, there’s no real secret of the availability of the tools the person on the blog mentioned. Anyone could find them, read about success stories from people using them, and trying to use the tools themselves. If you’re able to produce something of value using the tools available, it’s a combination of so much more which provide your unique solution, so don’t worry about the competitors who are probably using most of the same tools anyway.