Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 18, Issue 30;   July 25, 2018: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II

Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II

by

A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness.
Office equipment — or is it office toys?

Office equipment — or is it office toys?

Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that causes us to see in familiar things only their familiar uses. For example, the brine from a jar of hot cherry peppers is an excellent copper cleaner. This was probably an accidental discovery, because functional fixedness would probably prevent most of us from trying it without having heard of it.

The workplace provides opportunities for exploiting functional fixedness to disguise one's true motives. In Part I of this exploration we examined three ordinary actions that could be used for purposes other than what they seem. Here are about a dozen more. In some of them, the person deceived is the same as the person deceiving.

  • Scheduling a meeting every week at a specific time to prevent others from scheduling meetings in that time slot
  • As a meeting's chair, adding an agenda item to consume time in a meeting, thus preventing the meeting from addressing a later agenda item you don't want to be addressed
  • As a meeting participant, wasting time in a meeting — being repetitive, asking unnecessarily detailed questions long-windedly, and so on — to prevent the meeting from addressing a later agenda item
  • As a meeting participant, raising an issue about a previously decided question to distract the group from another question that could prove uncomfortable for you
  • As a meeting participant, asking that the agenda The workplace provides opportunities
    for exploiting functional fixedness
    to disguise one's true motives
    items be re-ordered, claiming that you feel that one of the later items is urgent, when your actual purpose is to delay the item you want to avoid until later in the agenda, past the time when you know you'll have to leave for another meeting
  • Accepting an invitation to one meeting to have a reason to decline another meeting scheduled at the same time, and which you don't want to attend
  • Acquiring a new piece of equipment (computer, mobile phone, headset, eReader, whatever) to make yourself "more efficient" when you're actually seeking distraction from work you find boring or otherwise unpleasant
  • Stopping work and setting off down the hall for yet another cup of coffee for the same reason as the equipment thing
  • Tackling Task A, which you like, to justify delaying Task B, which you don't like, and to trick yourself into believing you're too busy to take on Task B
  • Volunteering to take responsibility for an undesirable but low-risk task to avoid being assigned responsibility for an undesirable and high-risk task
  • Dressing one or two notches above usual and leaving work early, to create the impression that you're interviewing somewhere for a new job, when you actually aren't doing any such thing
  • Asking a favor not to get the favor, but to determine whether the target would be willing to grant a favor
  • Baiting, bullying, threatening, or harassing someone just before a meeting, possibly privately, in order to put her or him on edge when you attack less directly during the meeting. The hope is that their response will be disproportionate to your criticism, which to others will appear to be fair.

You've probably noticed that many of these ploys are similar — they're the same pattern applied to different situations. That's a good thing, because it simplifies the task of recognizing variations when people use functional fixedness to conceal their true objectives. Watch carefully — you might find examples of your own to add to this collection. If you do, please send them along. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Strategies of Verbal Abusers  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselSome Hidden Costs of Business Fads
Adopting business fads is an expensive organizational pattern, with costs that extend beyond what can be measured by the chart of accounts most organizations use. Here are some examples of the hidden costs of business fads.
Brian Urquhart of the Office of the UN Under-Secretaries Without Porfolios. (1 January 1956)Staying in Abilene
A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
Portrait of a woman titled "Monomania of Envy"Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VIII
Narcissistic behavior at work can have roots in attitudes and beliefs. Understanding which attitudes or beliefs underlie narcissistic behavior can sometimes have predictive value. Among such attitudes or beliefs are those related to envy.
Inside the space station flight control room (FCR-1) in the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control CenterEmbarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Coping
Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt.
Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)Full Disclosure
The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility.

See also Workplace Politics and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceComing July 3: Additive bias…or Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
The standard conception of delegationAnd on July 10: On Delegating Accountability: I
As the saying goes, "You can't delegate your own accountability." Despite wide knowledge of this aphorism, people try it from time to time, especially when overcome by the temptation of a high-risk decision. What can you delegate, and how can you do it? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.