Unfix your mind

Why is it that we find it difficult to step outside out mindsets? It seems very difficult to change a pattern of thinking once it has been established. We seem rooted in the thinking of the age in which we exist, and this constrains our creativity. This was why Voltaire declared that

'Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time'.

We need creative thinkers. We need people in our society who can break free from the constraints of 'the ideas of the time', and 'think outside the box'. Research in cognitive science reveals to us a great deal about the problem of constrained thinking. In one experiment in problem solving, psychologists showed the image below:

The problem was how to connect all nine dots with just 4 straight lines. The rules of the problem were that the four lines had to be continuous, with no lifting of the pencil from the page. Most participants couldn't complete the problem in the time allocated.

Those who were unsuccessful saw a box. They constrained their thinking and could not see beyond the boundaries they had imposed upon their own thinking. The successful ones thought outside the box and saw other possibilities. The solution below shows how the problem can be solved if you break out and think beyond self-imposed constraints.


The problem of self-imposed constraints is otherwise known as functional fixedness and occurs in various contexts every day. We travel to work by the same route, and we have a specific routine for every task we do during the day. We rarely think about ways to do things differently, because we are risk averse, or simply comfortable in our routines. Creative thinking demands some risk taking. Creativity is not born out of being comfortable. It requires different patterns of thought that are outside routine, and beyond the regular. Creative solutions often emerge when we think ... 'there must be a better way to do this' ... and then examine the problem from all the possible angles. The solution to the nine dots problem above seems difficult to find at first glance but once it has been revealed, it is very obvious. There are many other similar problems we face in our daily lives, but often our fixedness prevents us from finding the solution. 

So here's a problem for you to solve, to practice developing your creative skills: 

A man enters a field with an unopened package - and dies. What was in the unopened package? 

Write your answers in the comments section below.

Graphics from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Allan Ajifo on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Unfix your mind by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Comments

Neil Withnell said…
An unopened parachute
Joseph Gliddon said…
A replacement heart (my sons suggestion)
teachernz said…
His parachute?
Marta Torán said…
Clue: man and package fell from the sky ;-)
Anonymous said…
We need creative thinkers. We need people in our society who can break free from the constraints of 'the ideas of the time', and 'think outside the box'. - */S.Y\ Critical Thinking give new Mindset, becoming a Thought Leader. Thought Leader can realize new Business Decisions for SME's .Transformation of Thought Leader give New Understanding & Analytical Wisdom and the Evolution on Content. Smart Tips. Many Faces of Constructivism. Look the Mirror of Thought Leader. You can see Much Creativity on Demand.
Jason said…
The man was in the package? He died precisely because it was unopened. (Or is that too morbid!?)
Anonymous said…
thedigitalbenji tells me it might be a parachute....
or his lunchbox maybe??
Anonymous said…
Parachute likely answer but I say (but I would) his insulin he had been waiting for but he didn't know that it was in the package (or he didn't have knife/scissors). Ho hum, bit tortuous tho cos why was he in the field?
1. My first answer is that the man is inside the package. However, I believe that one way of "unfixing" our mind is to force ourselves to think of a second or third answer...so...
2. Perhaps the man is the package and inside the man is a malignant tumor....or...
3. Perhaps humanity is the package - the entry into the field is "solving a problem" - if the brain is never "open" to new ideas and ways of doing things - the man will certainly die
4. ...or perhaps the package just contained some honey or skittles and the man was attacked by ravenous bears (with my apology to bears!)
Heather Thaxter said…
I don't think the contents of the package are necessarily relevant. Assumptions are made that he died because of not having opened the package.... I think it's probably more important knowing what was in the field.. bull perhaps?
Anonymous said…
It was an electromagnetic field, and he hadn't opened the package that contained his Faraday cage
Steve Wheeler said…
The unopened package was a parachute (and there is more than one way to enter a field - how about vertically?). Congratulations to those who got it right. The rest of you had the right approach, to examine the problem space from every possible answer. Often the solution is quite simple, but needs another perspective.
gingerblox said…
The parachute answer is also constraining as the correct answer, so many other possibilities posted would work too. Perhaps what we need to learn is not only to be creative I thinking but also open to the possibility of other answers!
Steve Wheeler said…
Not inclined to agree. Your response constrains my creativity (see, we can go on like this forever!) ;)
John Laskaris said…
I wish I saw this post earlier… Anyway when it comes to creativity I totally agree we have to unfix our minds. Though it’s not that an easy task since we have so many habits and are used to think schematically.
Anonymous said…
I like the eight year olds answer to the nine dots and the joining of them with four lines. The eight year old days "why do you need four lines when one will do".

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