What’s keeping you from becoming more innovative? In a recent article for Harvard Business Review (HBR), authors Tony McCaffrey and Jim Pearson suggest that our perceptions are the problem. Specifically, the authors cite three attitudes – functional fixedness, design fixation, and goal fixedness – that limit the way we think. Yet McCaffrey and Pearson also claim it’s possible to overcome these obstacles. Here’s how.
Functional fixedness is what happens when we see a familiar product and ignore aspects of it that aren’t important for its use. To overcome this mindset, McCaffrey and Pearson write, we need to change the way we describe the object. Start by analyzing each of its elements. Then ask two questions. Can each element be broken down further? Does the description of each element imply a particular use?
Design fixation is what innovators overcome when they notice unusual aspects of a product, or see a broader range of features. Most people focus on an object’s material, size, shape, and parts. To adopt an innovative approach, you need to consider the features that everyone else has overlooked. By studying a product’s less obvious characteristics, you may identify new purposes – and applications.
Goal fixedness refers to how the way that a goal is phrased can narrow our thinking. By framing a problem in more general terms, you can invite alternatives. For example, if you talk about “adhering” a product, people may assume that the only way to attach it is with glue. If you talk about “fastening” a product, however, options such as nails, brackets, glues, and screws may come to mind.
So what’s keeping your company from becoming more innovative? Are functional fixedness, design fixation, and goal fixedness the only challenges that you face?
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