Friday, May 25, 2012

Surviving the Titanic [Bryan]

So, why didn't the folks in the Titanic just hop on the iceberg? Functional fixedness!
The most famous cognitive obstacle to innovation functional fixedness — an idea first articulated in the 1930s by Karl Duncker in which people tend to fixate on the common use of an object. For example, the people on the Titanic overlooked the possibility that the iceberg could have been their lifeboat.
Newspapers from the time estimated the size of the iceberg to be between 50-100 feet high and 200-400 feet long. Titanic was navigable for awhile and could have pulled aside the iceberg. Many people could have climbed aboard it to find flat places to stay out of the water for the four hours before help arrived. Fixated on the fact that icebergs sink ships, people overlooked the size and shape of the iceberg (plus the fact that it would not sink).

1 comment:

xunil2 said...

I never thought I would accuse the Warnicks of not thinking something through, but that is what I am doing now.

With icebergs, what you see above the water is only a very small part of the iceberg. Most of it is underwater, where you can't see it and can't tell what dangers lurk. Titanic had already struck it once. Risking another hit by 'pulling alongside' would not be smart. If you could get close enough to disembark passengers you are likely to strike underwater ice and put another hole in the hull and sink the ship faster. If you try to use the lifeboats to ferry folks to the iceberg, well, you've got a heck of a climb on ice in front of you.

Beyond that, however, functional fixedness does not apply here. Functional fixedness refers to traditional or 'normal' uses for an item. There is no traditional use for an iceberg, and thus no function on which to fixate.