Product innovation…

Email: Potential barriers to product innovation, how to overcome? (Kenya)

Tough one, a humble perspective. A common reason is functional fixedness. Sometimes, our mindset limits us to see an object only in the way it’s usually understood. Businesses are constantly hampered by functional fixedness & cognitive biases that cause teams to overlook elegant solutions whether conceiving new products, finding novel applications for existing services, anticipating competitive threats, creating unique business models.

Psychologist Karl D. demonstrated functional fixedness with a famous brainteaser. Gave teams a candle, a box of thumbtacks, a book of matches. Asked them to find a way to affix the candle to the wall so when it was lit wax wouldn’t drip onto the floor. Teams couldn’t realise the answer was just to empty box of tacks, attach candle to the inside of the box with melted wax, then tack box to wall. Box acts as a shelf to support the candle, catches dripping wax. Because the box had been presented to teams as a tack holder, they couldn’t see it any other way. In an ‘insight challenge’, teams had trouble seeing a plastic lawn chair can be used as a rowing paddle. A basketball can be deflated, shaped into a bowl to carry hot coals in camps.

What causes functional fixedness? When we see an object, automatically screen out awareness of features not important for use. A natural neurological tactic for everyday life, unhelpful in innovation. One way to overcome is to transform how we describe a product. When told a candle wick is a string, we recognise it can tie things together. Avoids an unintentional narrow perception, opens more ideas for use. We ask 2 basic questions – ‘can it be broken down further?’ & ‘does our description imply a particular use?’ If yes, we keep breaking down core elements until described most generically for either augumentation or re-invention.


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