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29 June 2015

Book Review: A whack on the side of the Head: Author: Roger Von Oech

The full title of the book is 'A whack on the side of the head - How you can be more creative'. Author: Roger Von Oech.

The first sentence in the book is 'The sun is new every day', spoken by the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephisus. (the author borrows extensively from the Greek Philosopher). In a world that  is continually changing, the ability to think creatively can mean the difference between success and failure. The first sentence in the book says that even when the same problem looks similar today as it did yesterday, the problem is not the same. One need to look at it with a different perspective.

The book starts off with an introductory chapter titled 'A whack on the side of the head' and concludes with chapter titled 'A whack on the other side of the head'. The book identifies and focuses on 10 mental blocks that can impact creativity. Each of the 10 chapters between the first and the concluding ones discuss one mental block.

The author identifies the following mental blocks to creative thinking.
  1. Looking for the right answer
  2. Looking for the logical answer
  3. Follow the rules
  4. Be practical
  5. Play is frivolous - be serious
  6. That is not my area
  7. Don't be foolish
  8. Avoid ambiguity
  9. To err is wrong
  10. I am not creative.
Basic prerequisite to creative thinking is knowledge. To be a creative person, one need advanced level of knowledge. In other words, the more you know, the more you can be creative. Whether or not you 'will be' creative will depend on what we do with our knowledge.

Any idea, concept or thing takes it meaning from the context in which we put it. For example, when you transform the concept of 'Just in Time' production from 'Toyota Production Line' context to 'Burger Production' context, you get the MacDonald's 'Burger Line Operations'. This means that changing context is a way to discover the possibilities of your resource.

There are four stages of creative thinking. At each stage, the individual plays a different role. The four roles are Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior

Explorer: In this role we look for materials we will use to build the idea. The materials include facts, concepts, experiences, knowledge, feelings and whatever we can find. In this role we are searching. We will poke around in unknown areas, pay attention to unusual patterns, use different senses, seek out a variety of different types of information

Artist: In this role, we play around with the information, experiment with different approaches, ask 'what if' question and look for hidden analogies. The artist, in the end, comes up with a new idea.

Judge: This is the analytical role. In the role we evaluate the idea based on a few parameters. Is the idea good? Will it give us the expected RoI?  Do we have enough resources to make it happen? We run risk analyses, question our assumptions and ultimately make a decision. 

Warrior: This is the role played in the execution phase. We compete with other ideas, fight it out in the trenches, overcome idea killers, temporary setbacks etc. In this role we plan the work and work the plan.

There are two reasons for low creative performance.
  • Weak roles
  • Bad timing
If any of the four roles in our team is weak, our ideas will not get off the ground.
Equally using a role at the wrong time is counter productive. Some people tend to get stuck in a single role.

The prescription for high performance is to develop the creative roles and use them appropriately.

Finally, follow these tips to become a good warrior.
  1. Take a whack at it: Make the idea happen. Identify the three things that can help us reach our goal.
  2. Put a lion in our heart: To fight a bull when you are scared in something. What give us courage to act on our ideas? Have we got a well thought out plan? Do we have faith in our idea?
  3. Get support by creating a support system
  4. Identify and get rid of excuses:
  5. Flex our risk muscle: Take risks. make it a point to take at least one risk per week.
  6. Have something at stake: It can be money, reputation, self esteem, survival - It should be anything that is important for us.
  7. Be dissatisfied
  8. Use our shield: Be prepared for a negative reaction and do not let it prevent us from acting on our idea
  9. Sell, sell, sell: What benefits does your idea provide? Why should other be interested in your idea? What does it promise? How can we make our idea attractive to others?
  10. Set a deadline
  11. Be persistent
After we implement our idea, we must give ourselves a pat on the back. After that go out and earn another one.

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