Every individual and business has experiences that impact the thought, decision, and action processes that, over time, form beliefs. If left unchecked and unevaluated, these beliefs can become embedded biases that keep us from achieving greater success.
This is the case with Functional Fixedness, a cognitive bias that causes us to think of something in a particular way. We use this bias everyday to improve the efficiency and efficacy of our lives. For instance, if we are experiencing a toothache, we know to go to the dentist and not the car mechanic. This bias eliminates wasted time and effort in our lives because, to use the example above, we think of toothache, dentist, and car mechanic in a particular way.
How “Normal” Bogs Us Down
The unseen dangers of Functional Fixedness can be far more complex and nuanced. When we think of something in a particular way that doesn’t serve us or reflect reality, we voluntarily put blinders on, and the results can be devastating.
In recent years, we’ve seen Functional Fixedness disrupt entire industries. These disruptions break down biases and force an evolution of thought in the most violent and unexpected of ways. The music industry is a perfect example. Their Functional Fixedness bias had them thinking people would continue buying physical CDs at $20 each even in the face of evolving technologies—primarily P2P streaming services (like Napster)—and they responded with legal action. Instead of seeing their industry in a new way, music execs put blinders on with disastrous results: prices dropped around 33 percent, sales cratered, and digital services dictated the terms of musical evolution, rather than the other way around. Those execs and their refusal to adapt cost them the power to dictate their own market terms, and the music industry will never be the same.
Think Outside Your Biases
This approach can be applied to life, business, or industry: we all need intentional disruptions regularly to break down Functional Fixedness. Here’s how you start:
- Acknowledge the possibility that Functional Fixedness exists and that you may have biases.
- Question and evaluate every bias, as mentioned above, from the most mundane to the most complex.
- Identify where you want to go, then identify the biases that could help and hamper along the way.
- Remediate to find the root cause of a biase to understand its origin and influence.
- Monitor your progress and adjust as needed.
Removing Functional Fixedness is critical for your life, business, or industry to continually improve and evolve. Enjoy the process and freedom it affords by breaking down the biases holding you back.