Functional Fixedness

A cognitive bias that limits a person to use anything only in the way it is traditionally used


A bi-weekly newsletter, where [Chandra Prakash] write about critical business thinking using mental models.

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Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits a person to use an object only in the way it is traditionally used. The concept of functional fixedness originated in Gestalt psychology, a movement in psychology that emphasizes holistic processing.

Karl Duncker defined functional fixedness as being a mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem.

This "block" limits the ability of an individual to use components given to them to complete a task, as they cannot move past the original purpose of those components.


  1. If someone needs a paperweight, but they only have a hammer, they may not see how the hammer can be used as a paperweight. Functional fixedness is this inability to see a hammer's use as anything other than for pounding nails; the person couldn't think to use the hammer in a way other than in its conventional function.

How it applies to you?

Case: This is a real-life example from my life. I created a remote job board called @remotejobpage with the thought that merely creating it will bring in a lot of traffic and applicant for employers.

I faced the functional fixedness of my prior experience, that there are many other remote job board, which are curating remote jobs and are driving a lot of traffic on their website without doing any promotional activity.

But later, when I did, the result was not as expected.


@remoteleaf found a solution to this problem by focusing on delivering the solution to individuals instead of mass. She curates 1000's of jobs, just as I do, but she made her business profitable within a few months of launch, and I'm still figuring out ways to make money.

So coming back to solutions:

  1. Think Slow: Because fast-thinking leads us to common answers, if we want to be creative we need to engage in slow thinking. [Source].
    If I would have controlled my horses and given it a thought, then curating remote jobs for individuals would have been reasonable and profitable for me.

  2. Draw inspiration from distant [unexpected/unrelated] fields: The invention of Velcro is one of many examples. When George de Mestral returned from a walk in the woods with burrs sticking to his clothing he didn't see burrs that need to be plucked off, explains McCaffrey, but rather two things fastening together. Mestral's subsequent study of the ways burrs fastened together led him to create Velcro.
    If I would have seen and related today's paid newsletter success to my venture, it might have given me a different way to work, instead of employing so many resources, which have gone to waste.

  3. Ignore feature, break down to parts: Breaking parts helps to lead us away from our assumptions about how that object can be used.
    If I would have broken down the things required to make a job board a success, I would have definitely figured out, that distribution to a large audience is crucial for it, and I don't have that many resources to pull that adequately. It definitely would have to lead me to a different path to find out a solution.


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