Team:Arizona State E/Candle


Case Study #1: Innovation--The Candle Problem

In the mid 1940’s, Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker devised a performance test intended to measure an individual’s problem solving capabilities in relation to functional fixedness. In psychology, functional fixedness is defined as a mental bias an individual has towards an object and its uses. Thus, Karl Duncker sought to analyze how cognitive bias towards certain objects affected problem-solving performance.

The proposition was simple. The subject was given three key items: a candle, a book of matches, and a box of thumbtacks. Using these items, the goal was to position the candle in a way that, while lit, no wax would touch the ground.

Upon glancing at the final image, the answer seems fairly obvious. Simply remove the tacks and utilize the box to catch the falling wax. A later variant of Duncker's study conducted by Samuel Glucksberg concluded that functional fixedness would cause individuals to neglect the use of the box as a possible platform and instead see it as a container for the tacks. However, the real interest generated by this study was not in the solution. The test was intentionally designed to be a performance indicator!

Levels of performance became particularly interesting as they could provide links into successful organizations. Therefore, in repeated trials of the test, incentives were introduced as a new variable to better understand performance. This incentive was commonly money. While the common perception was that the incentive increased performance, the results were surprisingly contradictory.

That’s right. Those who were offered no incentive whatsoever were figuring out the Candle Problem the fastest. Money was found to actually decrease performance overall.

Ultimately, that would mean those who are the most effective problem solvers are those who are disinterested in money. Individuals with a genuine passion for their action will be crucial problem solvers.

Furthermore, multiple cross-applications in all types of geography and culture concluded the same. Whether in India or Great Britain, all subjects’ data were similar. That meant this was not solely a western ideal—it was universal. The only instance in which money acted as performance optima was when the instructions were clearly laid out. However, this isn’t fundamental into a new and challenging economy. As more and more organizations will require greater performance and innovation, problem solvers are essential.

The iGEM ASU E-Team takes Duncker’s conclusions into account with the CFC Business Model. As synthetic biology requires methods to maintain levels of productivity, innovation, and buoyancy during turbulent economic times to remain a potent industry, passion becomes a core ingredient into formulating the new meta design of business. How passion plays into the overall scheme of the individual is further discussed in Case Study #2: the Sinek Hypothesis.