Roger von Oech

Creative Think

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Explain what you're doing to someone who know absolutly nothing about it.


In my business I often ask people to think about the company we work for as thier company, i.e. mikebrewer, Inc. as opposed to xyz company. Then I ask them to give answers to their question from that state of mind. It seems to quickly produce the obvious. Great Post. M


Sometimes a brain-dump on a mind-map could provide additional "too obvious" information that gets somehow lost when you try to do all the thinking without paper.

Mark McGuinness

I did a course in acting improvisation a few years ago, and one of the problems we all had was a tendency to try to prepare or overthink our performance, instead of just allowing the words and actions to pop out spontaneously. I remember doing one scene where the tutor said to me "Just say the obvious thing, your obvious is your talent" - what seems obvious to us is often unexpected and remarkable to others.

As a consultant, one way I have of tapping into the obvious is not to be afraid of asking stupid questions, especially when people are using jargon or caught up in technicalities.

Danilo Sato

As a programmer, I always find that the bugs that seen more difficult to solve are those obvious one. And I second the comment about telling the story to someone else. I almost aways find myself disappointed when I realize the mistake while telling the story.
There are those who recommend telling the story to an imaginary friend so you don't have to go through that embarassement. :-)


The "obvious" can be so relative and subjective, can't it?

I like to visualize the big picture and ask myself where is the beginning and the end, or the start and the finish to this big picture. This helps lead me to the "obvious" first step to be taken.

Tom Haskins

In my experience, I miss the obvious when I have tunnel-visioned my awareness. My mind is functioning in a vicious cycle where fears come true and pressures seem real. I suspect Watson was afraid of looking like an idiot and his fearful premise was fulfilled in short order.
To remove my blinders and restore my panoramic awareness, I use three questions:
1. How am I pressuring myself ?(not How am I getting pressured?) deadline pressures, cost pressures, performance pressures?
2. What am I acting afraid of? (not What danger am I in?) making mistakes, disapproval, mediocre results, looking inept?
3. How can I exit this cycle? (not How can I resist this?) change my activity, imagine the perfect end result, observe my surroundings openly?

Valeria Maltoni

During one of the sales training experiences I joined early in my career, we engaged in a storytelling exercise.

One person was to volunteer and go out of the room, while the rest was to begin a chain from one end to the other and tell a story to their neighbor (only to them), who then was to retell the same story to the next, etc.

Then the "outsider" was invited back in and the last person in the chain was to tell the story received through the human chain aloud. Big wake up calls all around on many fronts:

* the first person realized that "their" story was now a completely different one
* the outsider got only the final tale and took that as the official story
* each person in between felt the impact of the changes that someone else made to "their" version of the story

The overall lesson was that we each think differently and thus behave from a slightly new perspective on things. What was important to someone was not at all to someone else. Imagine what happens during sales calls!

This might work as a primer to raise awareness before a naming session or any other collective thinking and talking exercise.

john harper

This very observation led me to put up this little site -

The obvious is usually an open secret. Asking others for insight or opinion is an obvious choice many avoid.


Thanks Roger for your post and Mark McGuinniss for the comment, "Your obvious is your talent." Sometimes I assume that what is obvious to me is obvious to everyone else, so I don't put it on the table. To realize that what is most evident to me is where my talent lies frees up energy to both express what I see and allow others to do the same. So I ask myself, "What do I see most clearly? What is true for me?" and "What is hidden from me and evident to another, as if it is illuminated?" I find this is especially important in working with groups, especially family collaboration. Sometimes I am even the one who points to the "elephant in the living room" that everyone was dancing around and avoiding.


"the obvious" is entirely dependent-upon mindset (of the moment)

so... actually... the questiion is not about what is obvious, but rather about what mind-set do you occupy? ... in this moment?

for example: "conventional wisdom" of any particular societal mindset, at any particular time, may be this or that...

thus the actual question is:

what other mindset COULD you occupy?

Lisa Gates

Wonderful Post!!
Perhaps the most obvious thing about your post is that you posed a question to a group of people. And here we all are answering you with insight, direction, possibility. One of the key questions, then, could be "Who could I brainstorm with that would blow the cover off this box?"

I like to remind myself daily that humans are social creatures, good at collaboration (world population is a clue here) and whoever made up the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" should be drawn and quartered, doncha think?

richard gould

Wow - because I can be too quick to reach a "solution", I've learned the more excited, the more infatuated I am with my own brilliance the more likely I've been to ignore the obvious. Like the first respondent, my strategy at this point is to describe my solution to a disinterested third party that I trust. Before I've finished I'll discover the obvious, modify my solution, or, as Roseanne Roseannadana would do, say, "Nevermind."


My first question is "How should I think about this?" A framework usually helps to reveal my blind spots. I like to brainstorm WH-questions : who, what, where, when, why, how. I also use the PNI approach of Edward de Bono: describe a problem along the categories of Positive, Negative, Interesting.

Roger von Oech

I'd like to thank everyone who has thus far taken the time to comment on this post about "seeing the obvious." Truth be known, I'm really surprised this topic has generated this much discussion. When I wrote it, I wondered if it was one of those pieces where I was "just too much in my head."

What I've learned from you is that is no one right way to see the obvious, but several things do help such as: explaining your issue to a third party; trying to be aware of one's own mindset; asking "what is the Big Picture?"; asking what one's own brilliance is and then stepping around it; and mind-mapping, etc.

One question I like to ask is: "What would a fool say in this situation?" I find that pretty liberating.

Daniel Scocco

Interesting, Roger.

I like to ask myself: "What do you believe in this situation? Now, what if exactly the opposite was true?"

Cam Beck

Roger, "What is the Big Picture" is one of my favorites. I find that in order to get my head around something, I need to answer that question first.

It's also an interesting exercise is to play the contrarian role to question and verify (or contradict) what seems obvious to everyone else, and even myself. On several occasions this exercise has resulted in epiphanies that have caused me to rethink my beliefs about a number of important issues.

Hey... If I don't hear from you before then, have fun on your trip!

Tom Haskins

Call me a fool, but this story of Sherlock Holmes and Watson does not apply to "seeing the obvious". The stars that Watson saw are obvious. Ask any Zen master "What is there?" and you'll be told the "stars and night sky". This story is a match for "seeing the hidden". There is no way to see the tent is missing with physical eyesight or "bare sensing". Holmes is using conditioning and categorizing. Hi sexaggerated self-importance would congratulate himself for using insight, deductive reasoning, pattern recognition. He is not seeing the obvious. As for my own use of the metaphor of "tunnel visioning", exactly how do I propose for Watson to be seeing the vast expanse of the sky by "tunnel vision" perceiving? Call me a fool, but it's ironical that Watson is missing what Holmes is seeing by getting captivated with the big picture and panoramic awareness. Therefore: the way to see what's obvious is to dwell on some minute detail at the expense of the big picture.

Roger von Oech

Tom: Interesting insight. And thanks or bringing the discussion back to the Holmes story. I'm reminded of another Holmes story, I believe it's "Silver Blaze," in which this discussion takes place:

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

For Holmes, at least, sometimes the most obvious things are the things that DIDN'T happen (dogs barking), or in the above story, the things that AREN'T there (missing tents).

Daniel: Good tip.

Cam: It's always worthwhile trying to see the Big Picture. (I imagine that being a brand new father has got you doing that a bit more!)

Tom Haskins

It is indeed "The Adventure of the Silver Blaze". I created a post for my blog a month ago based on that "knowing what's missing" that Holmes is famous for. I thought of having my Fool bring up the paradox of "what's obvious is what's missing".. Then Zen master character could have been a proponent for paradox, instead of for "bare sensing". I decided to go for "disrupting consensus" instead -- after rereading what you had said about "The Fool" in your original "Whack" book.

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