Every couple years, I make a point of re-reading Roger van Oech’s creativity classic, A Whack on the Side of the Head. After a recent re-read, I can heartily recommend that each and every one of you reading this post give Whack a whirl – as it is the most structured creativity guide I’ve ever read.
How Structure Feeds Creativity
If you read the sentence above and immediately thought “but wait, structure and creativity are enemies,” you especially need to pick up A Whack on the Side of the Head. Van Oech’s primary interest is teaching people how to be creative – and teaching requires structure. It requires context, topics, and thought exercises organized in such a way that students learn something useful from them. Many creativity guides “say” a heck of a lot without imparting any actionable advice to readers. They ramble on without knowing where they’re going, and eventually, they lose sight of their aim.
Van Oech always knows where he’s going, and he never loses sight of his aim. That aim is to provide readers with as much insight into the process of being creative as possible – and provide actionable tips and exercises for expanding your own creative faculties.
The Ten Mental Locks – and the Four Creative Roles
To organize his thoughts on creativity, van Oech talks about ten mental locks that prevent many people from being creative – and how to open them. These locks are:
- The Right Answer
- That’s Not Logical
- Follow the Rules
- Be Practical
- Play Is Frivolous
- That’s Not My Area
- Don’t Be Foolish
- Avoid Ambiguity
- To Err Is Wrong
- I’m Not Creative
But while van Oech’s advice for opening these mental locks is extremely valuable, the bit of Whack that I find myself returning to most is van Oech’s breakdown of the four roles needed to successfully navigate the creative process.
According to van Oech, each creative needs to act as an Explorer, an Artist, a Judge, and a Warrior when pursuing their creative ideas. Your internal Explorer seeks out materials upon which to build new ideas (van Oech and Neil Gaiman both call this building your creative “compost heap”). Your Artist creates, your Judge determines whether your idea is worthy, and (most importantly) your Warrior implements your idea in the world.
Many creatives (including myself, at times) have a defective Warrior. Reading Whack, and realizing exactly how important the Warrior is to making an idea real, is what spurred me to finally finish the first draft of my first novel, write and self-publish a book of short stories, and launch a couple blogs and podcasts into the world.
At Butler, I use my Warrior daily to launch our own and our clients’ work. I don’t think I’d be any good at this job if I hadn’t strengthened my Warrior before joining the Butler team, and I don’t think I would have figured out how to do that without reading A Whack on the Side of the Head.
Do You Need a Whack?
If you are looking for a book that will help you solve problems and take action (not to mention think more creatively), A Whack on the Side of the Head should be your next read. It is the best creativity guide I’ve ever read, which is why I return to it again and again – always learning something new.