Functional Fixedness is when we have difficulty coming up with new uses for an object that typically only has one use. The example of the candle, tacks, and matches is a great example of functional fixedness because a box of tacks is not normally used to mount a candle on a wall, so a person having trouble coming up with this solution would be experiencing functional fixedness. A formal definition of functional fixedness can be found here.
I'm currently taking a design class called Creative Problem Solving. The class's purpose is to improve our creativity and innovation over a semester. Each day we are shown an object and told to brainstorm for 1 minute all of the different uses we can come up with for that object. At the beginning of the semester this proved to be very difficult, and most students experienced functional fixedness, but as the semester progresses we all begin to come up with more ideas. Though many of the ideas people come up with seem strange, we've been taught that the best way to come up with a great idea is to have a lot of ideas.
Here are some examples of new uses for everyday objects:
It's important to understand the concept of functional fixedness so that we can learn to overcome it. When a person becomes fixed on one use for an object, it can be difficult to think of new uses. This can get in the way of problem solving because it doesn't allow us to think outside the box or have an open mind. I've learned that the best way to overcome functional fixedness is to just practice coming up with new ideas for things. Look at an object and brainstorm as many ideas as you can and write them down, and eventually more ideas will come to mind.
Here is a list of 100 uses for a paperclip, how many did you come up with?