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Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking and Problem Solving
posted by admin on 19/10/06
This is the feeling that you don't have the tools, knowledge, materials, ability, to do anything,
1. Prejudice. The older we get, the more preconceived ideas we have about things.
These preconceptions often prevent us from seeing beyond what we already know or believe to be possible. They inhibit us from accepting change and progress.
Example problem: How to connect sections of airplanes with more ease and strength than using rivets. A modern solution is to use glue--glue the sections together. We probably wouldn't think of this solution because of our prejudice about the word and idea of glue. But there are many kinds of glue, and the kind used to stick plane parts together makes a bond stronger than the metal of the parts themselves.
Another problem: How can we make lighter weight bullet proof windows? Thicker glass is too heavy. Answer: Use plastic. Again, we are prejudiced against plastic. But some plastics are not flimsy at all and are used in place of steel and in bullet proof windows.
Another problem: Make a ship's hull that won't rust or rot like steel or wood. Solution: Use concrete. Our prejudice is that concrete is too heavy. Why not make lightweight concrete? That's what's done.
Final example: How to divide a piece of cake equally between two kids so they won't complain that one kid is preferred over the other: "You gave him the bigger piece; you like him better! Waaaah!" Solution: Put the kids in charge of dividing the cake. Our prejudice is that immature, selfish kids can't do the job. But the solution, one cuts the cake, the other has first choice of pieces, works very well.
2. Functional fixation. Sometimes we begin to see an object only in terms of its name rather in terms of what it can do. Thus, we see a mop only as a device for cleaning a floor, and do not think that it might be useful for clearing cobwebs from the ceiling, washing the car, doing aerobic exercise, propping a door open or closed, and so on. (Later on in the semester, we will be doing "uses for" to break out of this fixation.)
There is also a functional fixation of businesses. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the railroads saw themselves as railroads. When automobiles and later airplanes began to come in, the railroads didn't adapt. "That's not our business," they said. But if they had seen themselves as in the people transportation business rather than in the railroad business, they could have capitalized on a great opportunity.
Similarly, when the telephone began its rise, some of the telegraph companies said, "That's not our business; we're telegraph companies." But if they had said, "Hey, we're in the communication business, and here's a new way to communicate," they would have grown rather than died. Compare Western Union to AT&T. And have you heard of those big calculator companies Dietzgen or Pickett? No? Well, they were among the biggest makers of slide rules. But when electronic calculators began to rise, they didn't know what business they were in. They thought they were in the slide rule business, when they were really in the calculator business. They didn't adapt, they didn't accept the challenge of change and opportunity, and they fell.
And there's a functional fixation of people, too. Think a minute how you react when you see your pastor mowing his lawn, or your auto mechanic on a television show promoting a book. Stereotyping can even be a form of functional fixation--how many people would laugh at a blonde quoting Aristotle? Too often we permit only a narrow range of attitudes and behaviors in other people, based on bias, prejudice, hasty generalization, or limited past experience. Think of those statements like, "I can't believe he said that," or "Imagine her doing that," and so on. But recall the proverb, "The goal of my life is not to live down to your expectations."
3. Learned helplessness. This is the feeling that you don't have the tools, knowledge, materials, ability, to do anything, so you might as well not try. We are trained to rely on other people for almost everything. We think small and limit ourselves. But the world can be interacted with.
If you are in need of information, there are libraries, bookstores, friends, professors, and, of course, the Internet. And there are also city, county, and state government agencies with addresses and phone numbers and web sites. There are thousands of government agencies that really exist and that will talk to you. Contact the EPA if you're working on air pollution or pesticides. Get some government publications. Call your state senator or federal congressman for help on bills, information, problems. Contact the manufacturer of a product to find out what you want to know about it.
If you are technologically poor, you can learn. Learn how to cook, use tools, make clothes, use a computer. You can learn to do anything you really want to do. All you need is the motivation and commitment. You can learn to fly an airplane, drive a truck, scuba dive, fix a car--name it.
4. Psychological blocks. Some solutions are not considered or are rejected simply because our reaction to them is "Yuck." But icky solutions themselves may be useful or good if they solve a problem well or save your life. Eating lizards and grasshoppers doesn't sound great, but if it keeps you alive in the wilderness, it's a good solution.
Perhaps more importantly, what at first seem to be icky ideas may lead to better solutions--de-ickified analogues of the original. When doctors noted that some unsophisticated natives were using giant ant heads to suture wounds, they imitated this pincer-closing technique by inventing the surgical staple.
Psychological blocks prevent you from doing something just because it doesn't sound good or right, which is a pretty ridiculous thing. Overcoming such blocks can be really beneficial. Navy commandos in Vietnam overcame their blocks and put on women's panty hose when they marched through the swamps and jungle. The pantyhose cut down on the friction and rubbing from the plants and aided in removing the dozens of leeches after a mission. Overcoming the block to using your own blood to write a help note could save your life someday if you got kidnapped.
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