Structural Fixedness: A Barrier to Creativity

by | Oct 19, 2015 | Attribute Dependency, Design Thinking, Evaluation Ideas, Idea Generation | 0 comments

Imagine you’re driving down the highway, and you notice a flag waving in the distance. But something’s not right. The flag is upside down. You’d notice it right away because it’s not in its usual position that you have seen hundreds of times before.

We all have this tendency to notice things that are out of order. We have an innate sense of how things are structured, and it helps us make sense of the world around us. But this sense of structure is also a barrier to creativity. Here’s an example:

Take a look at this and tell me, which is the odd one out? Do you see it?

1) 17
2) 19
3) 13

If you’re like most people, you selected one of the three numbers you see here: 17, 19, or 13.

But I want you to step back from the problem and see it in a different light. Now, I want you to consider all the numbers on the page, including the ones on the left side – 1, 2 and 3.

Now, out of these six numbers, which one is the odd one out? You should have no difficulty seeing that the number 2 is the only even number on the page. It’s truly the odd one out.

But why do people have such a difficult time seeing the number 2 as part of the set of numbers? It’s because we all have another type of fixedness called structural fixedness. Like functional fixedness, it’s a cognitive bias. It blocks us from considering other structures than what we’re used to.

Look back at our list of numbers. We’re so used to seeing a list with numbers and parenthesis that we treat the numbers behind the parenthesis differently. We have this structure so fixed in our mind, we don’t consider other configurations.

Structural fixedness makes it hard to imagine different configurations of a product or service that could deliver new benefits to the marketplace. This type of fixedness is a big concern with services and processes, because they tend to happen in a fixed sequence, one step after another. Without a way to break fixedness, we’re prevented from seeing new creative options.

The good news is that you can break structural fixedness just like you do functional fixedness. You do it with one of the five techniques of Systematic Inventive Thinking.

One in particular, the Division Technique, is your tool of choice.



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