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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From trash to treasure : how broken products lead to new ideas Wade, Wade


Consumer products often break. When this happens, the consumer is confronted with a decision which will determine how the product is used from that point onward. In this dissertation, I examine the psychological processes at play when interacting with a product that is broken, as opposed to functional, and find that broken products (e.g., broken wagons) serve as excellent creative inputs for generating novel product uses. I provide a synopsis of key theories from the literature on creative problem-solving and argue that functional products facilitate functional fixedness, or fixation on salient or conventional product uses. I present findings from seven experiments examining the effects of interacting with broken products on novel use generation and disposal behavior. I use these findings to argue that functional fixedness is an artifact of a chunking process that occurs when interacting with objects during problem solving, and assert that contextual effects which disrupt this process attenuate functional fixedness and enable the generation of novel ideas. I find that broken products are less likely to be treated as coherent wholes (chunks) and more likely to be treated as disparate parts (decomposed chunks), which reduces functional fixedness and allows for the generation of uses which deviate from the norm. Furthermore, I find evidence that the chunking of functional products and the chunk decomposition of broken products impacts recycling behavior; broken products are recycled more readily as a result of being viewed in terms of their component parts, facilitating the sorting of product components into separate recycling bins. I conclude by discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of these findings and suggest that designing products with disassembly in mind may facilitate creative reuse and recycling behaviors, reducing the amount of waste caused by the rapid acquisition, consumption, and disposal of consumer products.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International