As with many cognitive biases, functional fixedness can appear when tackling challenges in many different areas of life. Avoiding functional fixedness requires a conscious effort on the individual’s part towards promoting innovative ways of thinking and problem-solving.
Abstract the Problem
The first step to overcoming functional fixedness is done by first developing an awareness of the problem and simplifying it. A practice referred to as “uncommitting,” describes simplifying a challenge and distilling it down to the problem’s essential elements. By eliminating the details of the problem, we allow ourselves to think more creatively about the solution. By focusing on identifying the problem, and not judging ideas too early in the problem-solving process, alternative perspectives and possible solutions can be identified.3
Draw Inspiration from Unexpected Places
Researchers have found that when people look for inspiration from distant domains, they tend to generate more creative solutions to their problems, especially in comparison to those who draw inspiration from more closely related fields.3 Solutions from the abstract and distantly-related industries provide novel fixes, which tend to deliver creative and successful solutions.
Opinions from Different Disciplines
Like drawing inspiration from different disciplines, reaching out to experts in various fields also serves as a solution to avoiding functional fixedness and better-solving problems within one’s domain. Crowdsourcing initiatives by large technology companies provide an excellent example of this fix in play. Samsung, Unilever, and Lego have used crowdsourcing campaigns to share internal company challenges and call for innovative solutions from those external to their company in different industries. Crowdsourcing initiatives have continued to gain traction due to the success companies have seen in their ability to garner innovative solutions at a low cost, aiding these companies to avoid functional fixedness.4 Crowdsourcing has proven to be an innovative way to avoid functional fixedness, as participants from outside of corporations do not hold the same preconceived notions of internal employees within these companies. Without these preconceived notions and set standards and processes, crowdsourcing participants are able to avoid the restrictive innovative barriers typically developed in these traditional settings.