Fixedness - Norman Maier

Norman Maier, at the University of Michigan wanted to explore how different people solved problems. He attached two cords to the ceiling of his lab and asked students to tie the two ends together. What made it tricky was that the two cords were just far enough apart that, while holding on to one cord, you couldn’t reach the other.

To help participants in his experiment he placed items on a table that could help solve the problem. Where the item had functional attributes related to the problem – an extension cord and pole - they could easily solve the problem. When asked to solve the problem with items that had unrelated functions, such as a hammer, saw or even a paint brush, participants struggled to join the two ends of the cord.

Try the cord test for yourself

Take a length of string or cord, a little less than twice the height of the room. Fix the two ends to the ceiling, so that you can reach the middle point. Cut the cord in the middle so that both ends hang without touching the floor.

Cord Test 1

Now try connecting them again without any extra help. None at all.

Cors Test 2

Give up? The solution is in my book 'Solving the Right Problems with the Right Ideas', or send me an email on if you think you have the right answer.



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