A Three-Pronged Approach For Overcoming Design Fixation Academic Article uri icon


  • ABSTRACTEarthquakes, lightning, and historychanging ideas are classic examples of powerful, unpredictable forces of nature. These sorts of phenomena have been difficult to explain and predict, an often frustrating fact as humans try to understand and control the significant influences in our lives. Historically, such phenomena have been attributed to supernatural sources, such as the Muses or various deities. And yet, as scientific inquiry continues to focus on such problems, we begin to make progress, albeit incremental, in comprehending such unpredictable occurrences.Earthquakes and lightning serve as analogies for the phenomenon referred to as insight. As such, these analogies may help us better understand where ideas come from; in each case, the rare, and potentially powerful phenomenon occurs unexpectedly, yet, as we learn more, it becomes better understood. Lightning is an electrical phenomenon, caused by particles colliding, and building up large electrical fields in the clouds. Earthquakes occur at the edges of tectonic plates, as the Earth releases its heat. Thus, we may begin to understand what causes insight, even though we cannot as yet predict specific occurrences of new insights.Analogies may not provide fully developed solutions to problems, but they can help us restructure our thinking about certain problems. Problem restructuring is especially appropriate when fixation obstructs problem solving. In this paper, we will explain a few of the fundamentals about human insight experiences, particularly in relation to what have been termed incubation effects. Putting a fixated problem aside can be helpful, and new ideas encountered during fixation can sometimes trigger new insights, particularly if useful analogies help resolve fixation.How does one overcome the counterproductive effects of fixation? We suggest a threepronged approach to this problem: 1. Forgetting fixation, 2. Redefining problems, and 3. Using clues or hints to provoke new ideas. We will explain each of these ideas, in brief, after providing a background for insight, incubation, and fixation.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Smith, S. M., & Linsey, J.

citation count

  • 40

complete list of authors

  • Smith, Steven M||Linsey, Julie

publication date

  • June 2011