The wonderful 25th Anniversary Whack

Twenty five years ago, I bought a book with a bright red cover that I've treasured ever since: A Whack on the Side of the Head. Twenty years ago in Grand Rapids Michigan, I met the book's author: Roger von Oech. We were both making presentations on creativity to a corporate headquarters there. Last month Roger asked me to write a review of his revised, 25th Anniversary edition of the book. I recently learned that the previous editions have sold nearly 2 million copies while getting translated into 17 different languages. This week, UPS delivered the new version that is pictured next to my first edition.

Writing reviews of books is well within my area of expertise and my comfort zone. I'm delighted and honored to write of review of this wonderful book -- except that would be acting like I had not read the new A Whack on the Side of the Head this week! So first, I'll reverse the problem of writing a review that's already within my expertise and following the rule established by Roger's request of me.
What-if it's not "in my area" to review a book on creativity? What-if I've not added reviews before to this blog? What-if complying with the "rule to write the review as requested" is a block to my creativity? What-if this challenge is really new to me, very curious indeed and likely to be fun for me (and you)?
That leaves my options extremely wide open. I could write anything about the new book. As Roger has explored more extensively in this new edition, added constraints bring out more creativity. I need to limit my possibilities further and take those previous what-if questions as a steppingstone to another set of more confining questions.
What-if this 25th Anniversary book that arrived this week is not really a book to open, read, bookmark, reread, close and shelve? What-if the book is actually therapy for troublesome inhibitions, hang-ups and blocked talents? What-if the book is practicing what it preaches and setting us up to learn by its worthy example? What-if the new book is actually giving away the secret of its huge sales success with the previous editions? What-if the book embodies paradoxical wisdom like the Tao Te Ching or I Ching that can always be contemplated, but not read for literal meaning in a straightforward manner?
Now I've narrowed my options enough that I can get creative and see it differently in essence!

As therapy for hang-ups: This 25th edition is even more therapeutic for any of those ten blocks to creativity Roger identifies. The early versions tempted the reader to go into either/or thinking about ambiguity, following the rules or right answers. The new edition frames each block as both a good and bad thing. Now it depends on the situation. The new edition is more like the healing tradition among Native Americans who tell medicine stories. There's a "time to deviate and a time to replicate" with each block that is explored. The stories hand over the power to discern and choose when, how much and in which way to play around. We're set up to give ourselves advice with the ambiguity we get from the book. Our hang-ups vanish as we abandon our one-sided preconceptions.

As an example to imitate: Lots of books are written by hypocrites who cannot walk their talk, but articulate a good game on paper. We don't learn much from quacks because their incompetent actions speak louder than their impressive words. On the other hand, Roger is acting creative as he whacks his son's seventh birthday dinner or the consequences of a month long closing of his swim team's pool. We can follow his example when he starts using metaphors, changing frames of reference or pondering a paradox. We can see how creative the book is, how creative we look to him, and how easy it appears to get creative ourselves. We get the feeling that creativity is something to do and have fun with every day. It's really something that can be learned by osmosis, imitation and example -- once we realize how creative we've suddenly become right now by rereading a few of these pages.

As success secrets revealed: Only a fool would see this book as a guide to riches. So call me "a real whack job" as I reveal its secrets. Roger quotes Heraclitus: "Every walking animal is driven to its purpose by a whack". Like marketeers who "don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle" or "don't sell perfume, sell hope", every edition of Whack has sold us our own purpose. It's a multi-million seller because we're buying access to our own potential and heartfelt aim. It sells because it's creative in attractiveness, it's offer, and it's positioning. It sells the emotional appeal of using it to get walking again. When we've come to a standstill, we get the whack we need from it to get unstuck in our thinking. The whack "dislodges our presuppositions" about the necessity of being practical, avoiding mistakes, acting foolish and following rules. It's a guide to the riches in us that create the gifts for others to utilize themselves; or so this fool believes.

As paradoxical wisdom to contemplate: Is now the time to do the soft thinking of an artist or the hard thinking of a judge? Is this a situation to anticipate more of the same or to expect the unexpected? Does the problem I'm working on call for the mother (necessity) or the father (playfulness) of invention? Will I get unstuck at this point in my process by reversing the problem, morphing into a fool or seeing the obvious issues as metaphors? Will I discern the real problem by the light of day or in the dark of night? Will the clue I need be revealed by the dog that unexpectedly did bark or the dog that surprisingly didn't bark -- last night? What if I take this situation symbolically, like a dream that's showing me something I cannot discern with my literal objectivity? What if A Whack on the Side of the Head is an oracle to consult with questions like these at any given moment?

So things aren't always as they appear: not book reviews, bloggers, the books themselves or you dear reader. Imagine that!


  1. Tom,

    I'm blown away by your very generous review. It looks like you had a lot of fun putting it together!

    As we all know, when you create something, you get so close to it that it's difficult to get a lot of perspective on it.

    Your review has helped me do just that. I appreciate that.

    Thanks again, and happy whacking!

  2. Roger
    You're very welcome! I did indeed have fun writing the review. Reading your new edition got me feeling very creative.

    I also experience difficulties getting much perspective on my own creations. I'm so glad I helped you see some of the amazing value in what you've given us. Now back to whacking :-)

  3. Tom,

    I went back today and re-read your review. A lot of food for thought!

    Thanks again.