Functional Fixedness: How to Think Outside the Box

Masterplan Team

Funktional Fixedness – Thumbnail
VIDEO With english subtitles

Is it possible that 5-year-olds are more creative than adults? The answer may lie in functional fixedness – a phenomenon that restricts our creativity as we grow older. In this blog post, you will learn what functional fixedness is, how it can hinder innovation, and most importantly, how to break free from this mental trap to unleash your creativity.

Creativity is a wonderful gift that we all possess abundantly during our early years. Children effortlessly create worlds with their imagination and explore unknown possibilities. However, as we age, this natural ability often fades away. The phenomenon behind this decline in creativity is called "functional fixedness," which can hold us back both in our personal lives and in business settings. In this post, we'll take a closer look at this cognitive bias and explore ways to liberate ourselves from it to think innovatively once again.

What Is Functional Fixedness?

Functional fixedness refers to our brain's tendency to reduce objects, ideas, or concepts to their typical function. We find it difficult to recognize alternative uses because we are influenced by past experiences and learned patterns. This phenomenon was discovered by psychologist Karl Duncker, who demonstrated it through the famous "candle problem."

The "Candle Problem" – An Experiment on Functional Fixedness

In Duncker's experiment, participants were given a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a few matches. Their task was to fix the candle to the wall without allowing wax to drip onto the table. The solution was surprisingly simple: Use the box of thumbtacks as a candle holder and attach it to the wall with the tacks.

The Functional Fixedness Candle Experiment: How to Fix a Candle to the Wall with a Pack of Matches and Nails

However, most participants failed to solve the task because they perceived the box only as a container and could not see it as a potential candle holder. Functional fixedness hindered them from considering the box in a new way.

Functional Fixedness in Business

This thinking trap is not limited to daily life but can also affect businesses. When searching for innovative solutions to challenges or exploring new markets, creativity and unconventional ideas are vital. However, functional fixedness may lead to repeated application of proven approaches, preventing progress.

How to Overcome Functional Fixedness

Thankfully, there are ways to overcome this cognitive trap and unleash creativity:

1. Abstract the Problem and Goal: Focus on the bigger picture and the desired outcome without getting lost in details. Abstract thinking can open up new perspectives.

2. Brainstorming: Let your ideas flow without filtering or judging them. Jot down all thoughts, as even unconventional approaches might emerge.

3. Think Outside the Box: Consider the problem from different angles. Seek inspiration from other industries or fields to find fresh solutions.

4. Experiment in Everyday Life: Train your brain by deliberately attempting to use everyday objects in new contexts. This fosters a flexible and creative mindset.

Conclusion: Think Freely, Act Creatively

Functional fixedness is a prevalent phenomenon that can hinder the development of new ideas and innovative solutions. Particularly for businesses, overcoming this thinking trap is crucial for success in the competitive landscape and sustainable practices. By consciously abstracting, brainstorming, and thinking outside the box, we can rediscover our creativity and venture into new horizons. Let's embrace out-of-the-box thinking together and enrich the world with fresh ideas!


Masterplan Team

Our team consists of learning experts who will always provide you with the latest trends, fresh perspectives and helpful inspiration for successful learning in your company.
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