Book/A Whack on the Side of the Head
A Whack on the Side of the Head is a nonfiction book written by Roger Von Oech and illustrated by George Willett that was originally published in 1985. In the book, Von Oech discusses ways to enhance creative thinking. He also describes what he calls the ten mental locks that get in the way of it such as looking for the right answer, following the rules, avoiding ambiguity or thinking that you're not creative and provides strategies for opening those locks like looking for for the second right answer, slaying sacred cows, consulting an oracle and giving yourself a creative license. A Whack on the Side of the Head includes exercises to practice those strategies as well. Von Oech also examines the four roles that embody different types of thinking: the explorer, the artist, the judge and the warrior and gives several famous historical examples of creative thinking. While much of the book focuses on on creative thinking in a business context, Von Oech does make it clear that the tools that he outlines can be used by everybody, from teachers to doctors to coaches to florists to, of course, artists and everyone in between. A Whack on the Side of the Head is also peppered with Willett's surreal illustrations that add a whimsical touch to Von Oech's often humorous tone, making the book very unique and memorable. In addition to A Whack on the Side of the Head, Von Oech and Willett have also collaborated on two more books on creative thinking: A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, which further examines the four roles, and Expect the Unexpected, which focuses on the writings of Heraclitus. Von Oech has also released two sets of cards; the Creative Whack Pack and the Innovative Whack Pack, which serve as companion pieces to A Whack on the Side of the Head and Expect the Unexpected respectively, an app for the Creative Pack and two desk toys that are designed to spark creativity.
I use the strategies presented on A Whack on the Side of the Head multiple times a week and not just to generate ideas for creative projects. I've found that they're also very useful when it comes to day to day problems that don't have an obvious solution. The one that struck me the most when I first read the book, back in the mid-'90s, and that I still use regularly is consulting an oracle. In this case, an oracle is anything that will provide an ambiguous answer to a question or problem and interpreting those answers to fit the particular dilemma I was facing at the time has always challenged me to look at those problems in new ways and often led me to solutions that I doubt that I would have thought of otherwise. In the past I've closed my eyes, opened a book to a random page, placed my finger on that page and used the word directly under my finger as my answer. Fortunately, technology has made it a little easier and now I use a random word generator. I probably used this strategy the most in 2011, when I challenged myself to write a poem every day for the year. More than half of them started from random words and I don't think I would have been able to complete the challenge without using an oracle. Speaking of technology, I've launched the app almost every day since I first downloaded it in 2008. Sometimes I've used it to help with a creative project or a life problem and other times just to twist my perspective a bit and see the world a little differently. At these times, the strategy of asking a fool has been the most helpful. This strategy involves mocking your most closely held ideas and assumptions, as a court fool would do for a king, and it's always been a great stress reliever when I found myself taking life a bit too seriously. These are just a couple of examples of how the ideas in this book have very effective and helpful for me and that's why I highly recommend A Whack on the Side of the Head.
I'll leave you with a preview of the Creative Whack Pack app. You can listen to a free lecture about creative thinking by Von Oech that he uploaded to the Internet Archive. You can also visit his official site, read reviews of A Whack on the Side of the Head on Goodreads, buy it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, buy the app on iTunes and borrow A Whack on the Side of the Head from Open Library or the Internet Archive Lending Library or, of course, your local library.
If there's a movie, recording artist, anime, podcast or any other media that you'd like me to check out for possible inclusion on the rec list, please contact me and let me know about it.