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On the Road to Breaking Functional Fixedness
December 6, 2010 by Howard Blas

I can’t get the image out of my head. I keep thinking of the Power Point slide of the metal shopping cart with wheels, turned on its side, over a fire pit. Only a mischief-maker would burn a shopping cart, right? Wrong. An innovative person who wanted to cook meat but didn’t have a grill might be clever enough to put a shopping cart in a fire! The slide was entitled “Task Unification.”

The 14 Jim Joseph Fellows got a taste of what S.I.T.-Systematic Inventive Thinking does in an online webinar, and we will be spending 11-1/2 hours in Israel, starting a week from today, learning about tools and principles for breaking cognitive fixedness. One type of fixedness, “Functional Fixedness” is defined as cognitive bias which limits a person to using an object only in the way that it is traditionally used. Perhaps this applies to computers and video conferencing as much as it applies to shopping carts.

I am assuming that MegaMeeting and other video conferencing systems were intended to make it easier for employees of a company, based in different locations, to hold meetings, share ideas, and communicate better.

The directors of the special needs programs at the various Camp Ramah camps have begun using MegaMeeting for a slightly different purpose—for our “Shabbos Is Calling” Program. Every Thursday for 30 minutes, campers and their counselors “meet;” they hear and see friends from places as far away as Buffalo, NY; Chicago, IL; and Boston, MA. They sing Shabbos songs, hear stories about the weekly Torah portion or upcoming holiday, or simply “shmooze.” Last week, the group sang Happy (19th) Birthday to Riffy, talked about Chanukah, sang Chanukah songs, and even watched a counselor light Chanukah candles.

We are finding new uses for MegaMeeting, and we are proudly helping campers with special needs overcome isolation and loneliness by connecting in a meaningful way in the months when camp is not in session.

Time to get ready for next Thursday’s “Shabbos Is Calling!”