A Whack on the Side of the Head | Roger Von Oech

Summary of: A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
By: Roger Von Oech


In ‘A Whack on the Side of the Head’, author Roger Von Oech introduces the concept of mental locks that prevent us from thinking creatively. Our education system and a lifetime of following rules can hinder our ability to explore new possibilities. This summary delves into soft and hard thinking approaches, the power of ambiguity, and learning through trial and error. Expect to learn how to break free from conventional thinking, develop a creative attitude, and use ‘what if’ questions and stepping-stones to generate unique ideas. Embrace the role of the fool, and allow your creativity to flow as you read this summary.

Unleashing Creativity

The book emphasizes on the importance of unlocking the mental locks that hinder creativity. It suggests that crazy, foolish, and impractical ideas pave the way for practical ideas. The educational system we follow doesn’t teach us to be creative. The standard norms and attitudes that help us in daily routines can be detrimental to creativity. The book identifies ten mental locks that restrain our thinking process. Breaking the rules and searching for ideas in unusual places can help you cultivate creativity. The book motivates you to become aware of these locks and then forget about them while generating ideas. It suggests that errors are a sign of diverging from routine paths that can often lead to new discoveries. The book also suggests that a sudden change in routine can help overcome mental blocks and unlock new ideas.

Breaking Free from the “One Right Answer” Mentality

The idea that there is only one right answer can be limiting in life. With over 2,600 tests taken by the average college graduate, this belief can be deeply ingrained. Yet, it is important to recognize that there can be multiple right answers, some better than others. The danger of seeking the “one right answer” is that it can trap you and limit your options. In order to be more flexible and successful, we must develop the ability to unlearn what we know and consider multiple solutions to our problems.

Soft vs. Hard Thinking

The book explores the importance of soft and hard thinking in the idea development process. Soft thinking is crucial during the imaginative phase, while hard thinking is necessary during the practical phase. Soft thinking is metaphorical and playful, while hard thinking is logical and precise. Over-reliance on logic can prematurely narrow your thinking and prevent you from having valuable intuitive hunches. Both types of thinking are essential and should be used during different stages of the idea development process.

Creative Thinking: Breaking Rules

Creative thinking involves challenging the rules, taking on the role of a revolutionary to break out of old patterns and generate fresh ideas. The pressure to follow rules is ingrained in people, but it can be a mental barrier to creativity. It is essential to challenge rules to avoid getting locked into one strategy, which may not be appropriate. Like in sports, breaking rules can lead to positive change. It is crucial not to be afraid of killing sacred cows, even when they have been successful. Challenging rules is an effective way of thinking creatively and generating new ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Techniques

Learn how “what if” questions and stepping-stones can lead to practical ideas and help you overcome negative bias while developing more creative solutions.

Do you feel stuck in your problem-solving process? Are you struggling to come up with new and innovative solutions? The book at hand suggests asking yourself some “what if” questions and utilizing stepping-stones to bridge the gap between your thinking and the solution you need.

Start by asking yourself “what if” questions to get yourself thinking along different lines. For example, what if someone else had to solve the problem you are facing? How would Winston Churchill, Beethoven, or a seven-year-old girl approach the problem? This exercise aims to expand our thinking beyond our usual patterns and limitations by considering alternative perspectives.

However, these questions may not necessarily lead to practical, creative ideas. That’s where stepping-stones come in. They allow you to explore ideas that may be unfeasible or unrealistic in themselves but are meant to lead your thinking in different directions. One example is an engineer at a chemical company who asked what would happen if they added gunpowder to their house paint. Although his idea was impractical, it led his colleagues to consider other additives that could be used. This company ended up selling a new type of paint a few years later.

It’s important to remember that during the imaginative phase, the constraints of logic and practicality do not apply. Impractical ideas can even lead to practical ones. To counteract a natural negative bias, focus on the positive, and ask many “what if” questions and follow many stepping-stones. By doing so, you can train your brain to think more creatively and develop new and innovative solutions to problems.

The Power of Play

Don’t underestimate the benefits of play. Contrary to popular belief, work and play are not mutually exclusive. Taking a break from a problem can instigate creative thinking that wouldn’t be possible through constant problem solving. Seed planting by putting the issue on the mental back burner can allow for the growth of new and better ideas. And sometimes, a dose of ambiguity can launch the mind into high gear. By denying oneself the opportunity to play with ideas, individuals are denying themselves the opportunity to think outside the box and come up with new solutions.

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