Of course, we should be very thankful that the brain works the way it does, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function as normal human beings, and as responsible members of society. But the downside for innovation is that we rarely go back and reexamine the patterns we have already learned, understood, and filed away for future use. Once our cognitive maps have stored a certain concept in a certain way, the reality is that we don’t pay much attention to it anymore: a vacuum cleaner is a vacuum cleaner, a store is a store, a TV channel is a TV channel, and a gym is a gym. Our minds are extremely good at recognizing and applying existing patterns, but we are nowhere near as good at critically questioning or creatively rethinking these patterns on a continuous basis. Instead, we simply come to accept them as they are, and that’s that. They mentally recede into the background and we happily turn our attention to other, seemingly more important things as we go about our daily activities.
What most of us experience is a cognitive condition called “functional fixedness,” a kind of mental block that limits us to understanding and using the things around us only in the traditional ways we have learned. The more fixed our patterns become, the more difficult it is for us ...
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