Professional Help: 5 Strategies for Creative Problem Solving

The Atlantic:

If you’re stuck trying to solve a problem, try the obscure. “There’s a classic obstacle to innovation called functional fixedness, which is the tendency to fixate on the common use of an object or its parts,” says University of Massachusetts researcher Anthony McCaffrey. “It hinders people from solving problems.”

This week on Professional Help, McCaffrey explains the “generic parts technique” he developed to combat this common design dilemma and shares insights based on his analysis of 1,001 historically creative inventions from his recently published paper in Psychological Science.

Think beyond an object’s common function. Break an item into all of its parts and, if any of your descriptions imply a function (e.g., a prong is for transporting electricity), describe it more generically by its size, shape, and material make-up (e.g., small, flat, rectangular piece of metal). Calling something the prong of an electric plug may hide the fact that it can also become a screwdriver in a pinch. If the passengers of the Titanic saw the iceberg as a large floating surface rather than something that hits ships, many could have possibly used it as a lifeboat since it certainly wasn’t going to sink.

Read the whole story: The Atlantic

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