First, we have the famous example of the faces/candlestick illusion. The question is, which do you see? The faces or the candlestick?
That one is pretty easy to figure out, especially since you’ve probably done this before.
Let’s do another.
Down below you will see what is known as the Candlestick Problem. The way it goes is that the player must fix and light a candle on the wall in a way where the candle wax doesn’t drip onto the table below.
The rules: You may only use the following along with the candle, a book of matches and a box of thumbtacks.
If you are like most, you would have started out by using the thumbtacks to try and stick the candle to the wall. And if you are like most, you’ll find out that it doesn’t work.
As Daniel Pink points out, the answer is easy to see once we remove the thumbtacks from the box. From there, you use the thumbtacks to nail the box to the wall, put the candle into the box and light the candle with the match.
Functional fixedness is real.
When we give instructions we are designing choices. The same goes for stating a problem or offering multiple choices to a problem.
We limit the scope of what people can see based on what we say. When we put up guardrails, set up boundaries, put people in a box…we have a difficult time seeing outside of it.
Illusions are powerful and subtle. They are all over in the culture. Like this one:
It’s worth noting, most boundaries are illusions.
Once you see them, you can’t unsee them. Truth works the same way. Once you begin to see, you can begin to work through conflicts of interest.
The challenge is figuring out which boundaries to break and identifying which ones keep us safe.