A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
Roger von Oech
Business Plus, 25th Anniversary Edition (2008)
Note: When preparing for some interviews, I re-read several books on the creative process and remain convinced that all are still among the best. This one is indeed a business classic.
This book should be read in combination with A Kick in the Seat of the Pants…and preferably read first. Just a suggestion. Von Oech demonstrates in his thinking and in his writing the same principles he advocates so eloquently. In Whack, first published in 1983, he identifies ten “locks” which that (if not preclude) creative thinking:
• The Right Answer
• That’s Not Logical
• Follow the Rules
• Be Practical
• Play Is Frivolous
• That’s Not My Area
• Avoid Ambiguity
• Don’t Be Foolish
• To Err Is Wrong
• I’m Not Creative
How does each limit (if not preclude) creative thinking? How can each be “unlocked”? To what extent are these barriers interdependent? Von Oech devotes a separate chapter to each of the ten, answering these and other questions while providing various exercises in support of his explanations.
Whack will be immensely valuable to executives in any organization which needs a culture within which to generate and then nourish fresh ideas and new perspectives. The same is true of all self-employed people (especially independent consultants) whose customers or clients expect them to address the same need. Finally, I think that school, college, and university classroom teachers can devise all manner of appropriate applications of von Oech’s ideas. When you listen to Richard Feyman’s lectures on physics (now available on CDs and videos), you suspect that he has read all of von Oech’s books. He probably didn’t. Nonetheless, he and von Oech are kindred spirits.
In addition to von Oech’s A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, there are other excellent books also worthy of your consideration. They include those written by Edward De Bono, Guy Claxton, Michael Michalko, and Joey Reiman.
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Roger von Oech is the founder and president of Creative Think, a California-based consulting firm that specializes in stimulating creativity and innovation. He has given seminars and presentations to corporations worldwide, including Coca-Cola, GE, Disney, Intel, MTV, Microsoft, NASA, Apple, Citigroup, and the United States Olympic Committee. As indicated, he is the author of A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, as well as the popular Creative Whack Pack card deck. He lives with his wife and children in Atherton, California.
So, here’s the thing.
You will fail.
You will be left behind, forgotten.
You cannot rely on yesterday’s successes. People will forget them far too quickly.
What are you doing this week – this day – now? That’s how you will be judged.
But… the good news is a second (or third, or fourth) act is possible. But such an act is possible only if you act.
And when you decide to act, you have to make decisions quickly. Will it work, or not? If not, then forget it. And move on. If it might work, give it a shot. If you sense that that is something that will work, go for it – fully – all of it!
Here’s Mika Brzezinski’s insight/counsel, (Knowing Your Value):
You can tell quickly if something works or not.
Both Joe and I had been beaten up in our respective careers, and that experience – plus the fact that we were both bored by the traditional television news format – made us fearless.
We had big plans and even more determination.
You can tell quickly. So, decide quickly. Act on it. Be fearless.
It takes a mix of leaders and talent to pursue a variety of growth strategies simultaneously. Few executives can do it all. Here is an excerpt from another outstanding article featured online by McKinsey & Company’s Quarterly magazine, co-authored by Katharina Herrmann, Asmus Komm, and Sven Smit. To read the complete article, check out other resources, sign up for free email alerts, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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Source: Organization Practice
Is there a link between growth and specific leadership traits? We’ve tried to shed some light on this question by integrating two unique databases: McKinsey’s granular-growth database, with information on the growth performance of more than 700 companies, and a database created by the executive search firm Egon Zehnder International that contains performance appraisals of more than 100,000 senior executives (see sidebar, “Two unique performance databases”). The overlap between the two databases—a group of 5,560 executives1 at 47 companies across a broad range of industries2—allowed us to examine in detail the relationship between leadership competencies and revenue growth. We found that leadership quality is critical to growth, that most companies don’t have enough high-quality executives, and that certain competencies are more important to some growth strategies than to others. Companies that know how they want to grow can use these insights to cultivate the right skills in top executives.
Great leaders are hard to find but vitally important
Excellent leaders are few and far between. Only 1 percent of the executives in our sample achieved an average competency score of 6 or 7 out of 7 (although excellence in a single competency was more frequent). Just an additional 10 percent had an above-average score of 5.
That’s a challenge for growth-oriented corporations because leaders with high competency scores appear to make a difference: for every competency we reviewed, executives at companies in the top quartile of revenue growth scored higher than their counterparts at companies in the bottom quartile
Similarly, companies where the top teams as a whole had excellent scores (that is, 6 or 7) on the various leadership competencies were also those with strong corporate revenue growth. On the other hand, we found no measurable correlation between revenue growth and teams with solid but unexceptional leadership. [Note: The correlation coefficient for top executive teams rated 6 or 7 and corporate revenue growth is up to 0.74 for individual competencies. For ratings of 5, the correlations are around 0.5; they fall to 0.01 for appraisals at the 3 or 4 levels.]Since such a small percentage of executives had above-average scores across all competencies, trying to jump-start growth by looking for great “all-rounders” is a risky bet. An alternative approach is for companies to cultivate specific competencies correlated with growth in their existing teams or to seek new talent with the needed skills.
Customer focus first
If your company is seeking a launching pad to improve performance, the analysis shows that one competency drives the greatest gains: delivering customer impact (defined as the capacity to understand customers’ evolving needs). Companies that had a critical mass of executives who got excellent (6 or 7) scores in this competency recorded superior growth consistently—both organically and through acquisitions.
What constitutes critical mass? Companies where at least 19 percent of the senior executives excelled at customer impact were also the most likely to achieve above-average revenue growth (in the top half of our database). For a company to be highly likely to have superior growth (the top quartile), 40 percent of its senior executives needed to be highly skilled in that area.4 So all of an organization’s leaders don’t need to be top flight at customer impact, but when a substantial number are, the impact on growth can be significant.
Tailor talent strategies to growth priorities
At most large companies, of course, there isn’t just one growth strategy. Rather, companies rely on a diversity of approaches that vary by business segment and by circumstance: at times executives might place more weight on acquisitions, while at others they focus on stealing share from competitors, for example. Our analysis shows that high growth rates for these different strategies are associated with excellence in a range of leadership skills wielded by managers at various levels of the organization.
Consider portfolio momentum growth, which flows from market growth across a company’s existing business segments. To drive this type of growth, senior managers beyond the top team typically need to execute a strategy effectively across often far-flung organizations. Senior managers at companies in the top quartile of this growth category were highly rated in competencies relating to dynamic people and organizational leadership: developing organizational capability, change leadership, and team leadership
By contrast, companies in the top quartile of M&A-driven revenue growth had top-leadership teams that excelled at a broad range of skills. The first is market insight—in other words, looking beyond a company’s current business landscape to discern future growth opportunities. That competency no doubt supports the identification of deals, while another competency crucial for M&A-driven growth—a well-honed orientation toward achieving results—helps in postmerger integration.
If your company pursues multiple growth strategies, the talent bar is even higher. Our study shows that the average skill level of top teams at companies with a dual-growth strategy—defined as top-quartile performance in two of the three strategies (portfolio momentum, stealing share from competitors, or growth through acquisition)—was almost one and a half times that of their single-growth-strategy counterparts on key competencies.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Katharina Herrmann is an associate principal in McKinsey’s Berlin office, Asmus Komm is a principal in the Hamburg office, and Sven Smit is a director in the Amsterdam office.
The authors would like to acknowledge their collaboration with Stephen P. Kelner and Magnus Graf Lambsdorff of Egon Zehnder International on the research and writing of this article, as well as the contributions of Verena Renze-Westendorf, also of Egon Zehnder International.
Everyone seems to have lots of opinions about Steve Jobs. I never met him or worked for him. I’ve seen videos of him, notably his commencement address at Stanford. Also, I know people who knew him and worked for him. Among my friends are those who have written books and articles about him. It would be presumptuous of me, however, to suggest what lessons can be learned from him. There are others who are well-qualified to do so. Josh Linkner is a case in point. The author of Disciplined Dreaming, he is also the CEO and Managing Partner of Detroit Venture Partners and the Founder, Chairman and former CEO of ePrize.
Here’s what Josh thinks about his friend, Steve Jobs:
He’s been called the modern day Thomas Edison, the Beethoven of business, and the most prolific visionary since Henry Ford. Yet as Steve Jobs steps down from the helm of Apple, he has left us with so much more than incredible technology.
Jobs completely transformed the industries of personal computing, digital animation (Pixar), music, mobile phones, and now tablets. He created the most valuable company in the world and impacted the way billions of people live their daily lives. But beyond his accomplishments, he’s taught us lessons in leadership and life. The characteristics he embodied can serve as a roadmap for us all to become better in business, community, family, and personal achievement.
For all us kids from 1 to 92, Steve’s guiding principles can help us live our best life and make the biggest difference:
1) Put Passion First – He followed his heart and let the operational details fall into place. He refused to put a governor on his burning desire to reach new heights.
2) Never Limit Your Imagination – He always imagined the ideal solution or product and never cut corners or watered down his most potent ideas due to setbacks or fear.
3) Pursue Greatness over Money – Steve didn’t chase the mighty dollar. Rather, he focused on making the biggest possible impact and the money followed.
4) Demand Excellence – Critics complain of his exacting style and “unrealistic” demands. There’s a natural gravitational force of mediocrity, and sometimes it takes an aggressive stance to rise above the sea of sameness.
5) Put Yourself Out of Business – Steve was never satisfied, and constantly strove to be the force of disruptive change that would make the Steve of six months ago irrelevant. Never clinging to past successes, he maintained intense urgency around continuous reinvention.
6) Challenge Conventional Wisdom – When there were norms, he lived to shatter them. Nearly every step of his success can be traced to inspired thinking that stuck his finger in the eye of the complacent incumbents.
7) Simplify – ‘Nuff said.
8) Ignore the Naysayers – If he listened to the “sound advice” of others, we’d never even know his name. He never let the fear of others interfere with his own trajectory.
9) Persist – While today he sits victorious, there were many times he nearly lost it all. There were dark days at Apple, Pixar, and even in his personal life. Where others throw in the towel, Steve stared into the abyss and never accepted defeat.
10) Never Pigeonhole – Steve wasn’t a “computer executive.” He was a visionary change agent and could not be constrained. He realized his calling was far beyond any categorical label.
11) Push Beyond What You Think is Possible – When Steve heard “that can’t be done”, it only emboldened his resolve. He constantly drove himself and others to reach new heights.
Whether you’re building a tech startup, raising three kids or running a soup kitchen, these indelible philosophies serve as a roadmap to success. While you may organize your thoughts on your MacBook, communicate with your team on your iPhone, and later jam some tunes on your iPod, the impact of Steve Jobs is far greater than the devices he’s provided. Rather, he’s given us a model to reach our full potential.
Steve famously said he wanted to “put a ding in the universe.” You have done that, my friend, and so much more. The impact you’ve made is immeasurable, and has inspired a generation to “think different.” Thank you for taking the path less traveled, for conquering the never-been-done, and for leading with purpose. Thank you for changing the world.
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Josh Linkner is the New York Times bestselling author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, named one of the top ten business books of 2011. He is the CEO and Managing Partner of Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm helping to rebuild urban areas through technology and entrepreneurship. Josh is the Founder, Chairman and former CEO of ePrize, the largest interactive promotion agency in the world providing digital marketing services for 74 of the top 100 brands. Prior to ePrize, Josh was the founder and CEO of three other successful technology companies. Josh’s writings are published frequently by Fast Company and Forbes and he’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, and on CNBC. Josh is also a professional-level jazz guitarist performing regularly in jazz clubs throughout the United States.
Most importantly, Josh in on a mission to make the world more creative.
For more information on creativity, please visit his website by clicking here. “In addition to my blog, you’ll find free videos, quizzes, articles, eBooks and more to help fuel your creative fire! “