Whack on the Head – unlock your fixed ideas

“A Whack on the side of the Head” referred by my favourite authors as a book for creatives is in its 25th anniversary of printing.

Author Roger van Oech has a number of creative exercises to open our mental lock through use of ambiguity or paradox by Chinese idiom and Japanese koan and Greek oracles / riddles from Heraclitus.

Heraclitus was a philosopher born in Ephesus. You may be familiar with his oft-quoted wisdom “you never step into the same river twice”. Roger van Oech introduces some of them for us to exercise some brain gym to look for more than one meaning to understand our issues.

Wisdom of Heraclitus*

1. The cosmos speaks in patterns

2. Expect the unexpected, or you won’t find it.

3. Everything flows

4. You can’t step into the same river twice
– you are not the same person and it will not be the same experience.

5. That which opposes produces a benefit
– enemies serve a useful purpose : they tell us when to change direction.

6. A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected

7. If all things turned to smoke, the nose would become the discerning organ

8. The sun will not exceed its limits, because the avenging Furies, ministers of Justice, would find out

9. Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things

10. I searched into myself
– Know thyself? Your strengths and weaknesses? Sun Tzu’s Know yourself and know your enemies and you’ll not lose a hundred battles.

11. Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight

12. Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand
– Appreciate what’s before you. The solution may be right in front of you

13. When there is no sun, we can see the evening stars
– Every cloud has a silver lining ?

14. The most beautiful order is a heap of sweepings piled up at random
– ???

15. Things love to conceal their true nature

16. Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings

17. Sea water is both pure and polluted: for the fish it is drinkable and life-giving, for the humans undrinkable and destructive
– one man’s meat is another man’s poison

18. On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point

19. It is disease that makes health pleasant, hunger that makes fullness good, and weariness that makes rest sweet

20. The doctor inflicts pain to cure suffering

21. The way up and the way down are one and the same
-success can create situations that undermine our original intentions and end up creating bigger problems than the ones we started with. The author suggests that in the mid-1960s, the Japanese resort town of Atami lobbied hard to get high speed bullet train link to Tokyo, then 3 hrs away. After the railway was completed, tourism declined – in part because the romance of going away for the weekend was lost in a place that could be reached in only fifty minutes.

22. All things rest by changing

23. The barley-wine drink falls apart unless it is stirred
– People need to be inspired into action. If you see something not done. Stir others up to champion a cause

24. While we are awake, we share one universe, but in sleep we each turn away to a world of our own

25. Dogs bark at what they don’t understand
– Don’t throw pearls before swine

26. Donkeys prefer garbage to gold

27. Every walking animal is driven to its purpose with a whack
– Carrot and stick. Sometimes stick works or people won’t move to their goals.

28. There is a greater need to extinguish arrogance than a blazing fire

29. Your character is your destiny

30. The sun is new each day
– Don’t wallow in the mud. Pick yourself up and start again.

A whack on the Head, by Roger von Oech


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