Candles, motivation & the arrow

Imagine you are in a room. In front of you there is a candle, a pack of matches and a box of thumbtacks.

Your task: The candle should be attached to the wall
and it is supposed to burn.

It doesn’t work?


The candle problem was developed as a cognitive performance test by Karl Duncker. He wanted to test the functional fixation of the participant. The solution is easier if you think differently: The box of thumbtacks is not only there to store thumbtacks, it's also a tool in this task. Empty the box, use the thumbtacks to nail the box to the wall, put the candle into the box and light the candle with the match. Problem solved!

Seeing the world differently

is a big part of creativity.

The candle problem hides another wisdom.

Sam Glucksberg used it also in another trial:

He divided the participants in two groups and 
asked them to solve the problem:

Gruppe 1  ›no prize‹ 

​Gruppe 2  ›money based‹

If you find the solution,

you will receive a cash bonus

Which group came up with the solution more quickly?

If you think about our economic system, group two should clearly be the winner. As you can probably guess, exactly the opposite happened: Group one performed better.

What has happened?

The principle of human motivation!

To be more specific: intrinsic motivation (meaningfulness, values, self-determination, purpose, etc.) is more effective than extrinsic motivation (social status, power, abundance etc.).


I think it's beautiful that the motivation that comes from within fills your personal life with meaning and improves the quality of work. I publish my work under the metaphor ›the circling arrow‹, which stands for a compass needle.

My personal north is intrinsic motivation.



kommuniationsdesign | communication design

designschule münchen

B.A. Kunstgeschichte | B.A. art history

LMU | ludwig maximilian university of munich