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What is behavioral economics? Why does it matter to you?

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Podcast Episodes

What is behavioral economics? Why does it matter to you?

194. Functional Fixedness: When All You Have Is A Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail

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.

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SHOW NOTES:

  • [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” problem.
  • [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 you.
  • [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 business). 
  • [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 team.
  • [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 problems.
  • [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 perspective?
  • [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 Apollo 13
  • [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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