Functional Fixation

Functional Fixation

Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used.

Karl Dunker conducted an experiment in 1945 that showed how hard it is to see new uses for familiar objects. Dunker gave subjects a box of thumbtacks and a candle, and asked them to affix the candle to the wall.  The solution eluded most of the subjects: use the box itself as a candleholder, tacking it to the wall and tacking the candle onto it. Subjects were said to be “fixated” on the original function of the box, leading Dunker’s experiment to be famous as the first example of the functional fixation bias.

As an established entrepreneur, I mentor others in the entrepreneurial process.  Almost without exception, I notice that most individuals have some form of functional fixation.

Most notably, they are fixated on their paycheck from the employer that employs them.  They cannot “imagine” stepping outside of the box and providing for themselves.

My response to them is taken from a quote by Albert Einstein, “We cannot use the same level of thinking that caused the problem to solve the problem.” We must do something different.

Successful entrepreneurship requires risk, creativity, sacrifice and most importantly, it requires resolving your cognitive biases and looking at things in a new way.

As you approach your dream of entrepreneurship or expanding your current entrepreneurial endeavors – ask yourself, what do I have a functional fixation on?  And, how do I resolve these biases?

Once you have answered these questions for yourself, you are now free to imagine and create your own destiny.


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