Associative barriers are the things that any good brand person will try to harness; to create a mental shorthand that helps a consumer make a choice among many options. However, associative barriers also grow into habit forming mental blocks that keep one from considering any of those other options. And of course it is that openness that is a strong asset when it comes to brainstorming and ideation.
Frans Johannson, author of the book The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts & Cultures, illustrates this notion by sharing with us the story of young New York chef Marcus Samuelsson and his unusually mixed Swedish-based dishes.
The answer is that Samuelsson has low associative barriers. He has an ability to easily connect different concepts across fields. Specifically, he has an ability to find winning combinations of foods from Sweden and the rest of the world. We can all break down our associative barriers like that. In fact, if we wish to find the Intersection, it is a requirement. …
Psychologists have an explanation for what happens during this process: They say that the mind unravels a chain of associations. By simply hearing a word or seeing an image, the mind unlocks a whole string of associated ideas, each one connecting to another. These chains of associations tend to be clustered around domains related to our own experience. When a chef sees a cod in a fish market she may think of a particular recipe, which in turn makes her think of the menu items for the upcoming evening. But a writer for a sport-fishing magazine may see something very different. He may think instead of his latest fishing trip, instantly recalling the tackle he used and a story he should write about it. The mind works this way because it follows the simplest path—a previous association. Although the chef may know of sport-fishing, and even have done it on occasion, it is much more likely for her mind to quickly lead the thought pattern, with little or no effort, to the field she uses most—cooking. Chains of associations are efficient; they allow us to move quickly from analysis to action. Although chains of associations have huge benefits, they also carry costs. They inhibit our ability to think broadly. We do not question assumptions as readily; we jump to conclusions faster and create barriers to alternate ways of thinking about a particular situation.