Mar 4, 2022
In today’s episode, we are
digging in on the concept of functional fixedness, or the “when all
you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem. I
rather enjoyed taking this analogy a bit to the extreme while
sharing how this works; I hope you like it too.
When there is an issue with
functional fixedness, both sides are holding tightly to their own
respective hammers. Like all the biases, heuristics, and concepts I
share here on The Brainy
Business, it is often
easier to see these things in others than in ourselves, but I
challenge you to look for your own hammer in each encounter. As you
will learn in this episode, getting out of your own functionally
fixed way – even about something simple – can have such a huge
impact on your company overall. Listen in to find out how you can
make small changes for a big impact.
- [00:41] In today’s episode, we
are digging in on the concept of functional fixedness, or the “when
all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”
- [02:27] When you first show up
to tackle a new skill or concept, you are so excited for this new
opportunity, you likely bring every mental tool you might need to
help you learn. You’re a sponge, ready for whatever life throws at
- [03:17] As you develop
expertise, you start to declutter that mental toolbox.
- [04:30] When someone cuts you
off on the freeway, they’re instantly labeled a “jerk.” What about
when you cut someone off? It feels completely different because of
fundamental attribution error (and we do this all the time in
- [06:09] It is important to know
that you see “others” as different from you and will tend to judge
them and their ideas more harshly, not giving them the benefit of
the doubt that you might give to yourself and members of your
- [07:49] Isn’t it possible that
the one thing someone else is arguing is one of those 275,000
things your brain filtered out? Or that you are looking at just one
of many possible correct alternatives that could work?
- [08:15] Functional fixedness or
being set in your ways is another version of confirmation bias and
the focusing illusion.
- [09:06] Everyone else doesn’t
have to be wrong in order for you to be right.
- [09:58] One of my favorite
stories that I think is such a great example of overcoming
functional fixedness, comes from Apollo 13.
- [12:31] Even when the stakes
are high little things like this can be missed when you’re too
focused on your little area that you are working on. That can cause
a big problem.
- [14:23] It is easy to find the
right answer to the wrong question.
- [15:18] Reframing the
conversation so the team can look at things from different angles
is so important
- [16:51] When you are too deep
into a problem or have become an expert, you have this curse of
knowledge that can keep you from seeing all the other opportunities
that are just outside the norm.
- [17:26] Having a background
knowledge of associations and how things work is important, but it
is also important to understand that functional fixedness is a
problem and it can keep you stuck sometimes in a way that will keep
you from innovations or from solving the right
- [19:35] When you are fixated on
the myopic perspective of what you do or how you do things,
everything looks like a nail when all you have is that hammer. You
can be missing the bigger picture, which isn’t necessarily a
problem until sometimes, it is too late.
- [19:51] As you think about
starting to apply this to your work, I don’t recommend starting
with something big like your company’s mission. Have some warm-ups
on less consequential projects first.
- [21:11] Properly wording the
question is so critical for where you end up.
- [23:47] In general, when there
is an issue with functional fixedness, both sides are holding onto
their own respective hammers. Like all the biases, heuristics, and
concepts I share here on The Brainy Business, it is easier to see
these things in others than in ourselves, but I challenge you to
look for your own hammer in each encounter. What are you fixated on
that is keeping you closed off to the other person’s
- [24:51] “I don’t care what it
was designed to do, I want to know what it can do” - Gene Kranz, flight director for
- [24:58] If you enjoy the
experience I’ve provided here for you, will you share about it?
That could mean leaving a rating/review or sharing the episode with
a friend (or 10!)
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