Rethinking Labels Boosts Creativity

Rethinking Labels Boosts Creativity

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To become more inventive, new research suggests, we should start thinking about common items in terms of their component parts, decoupling their names from their uses. When we think of an object—a candle, say—we tend to think of its name, appearance and purpose all at once. We have expectations about how the candle works and what we can do with it. Psychologists call this rigid thinking “functional fixedness.”

Tony McCaffrey, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, developed a two-step “generic parts technique,” which trains people to overcome functional fixedness. Subjects he trained in this technique readily mastered it and solved 67% more problems requiring creative insight than subjects who did not learn the technique, according to his study published in Psychological Science.

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