Roger von Oech

Creative Think

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Roger von Oech

Tom: I checked out your blog. I encourage all of the Creative Think blog readers to give it a visit. There's a lot of interesting "takes" there.

I like this one: "Knowing what's missing requires a sense of the big picture." Tom wrote that about the Holmes story about the dog that didn't bark. Good stuff.


Sometimes it helps to just turn whatever it is you're looking at upside down. When you can't do this literally, do it figuratively. I used to be Managing Editor at Dolby Laboratories, and sometimes proofing something by looking at it upside down was the fasted way to see if something was where it shouldn't be, or to see if spacing was off. (I do the same thing in the kitchen: which muffin needs more batter? give the pan a turn and then look again.)

another method is to imagine you're explaining the situation to a cave-age dweller, who knows nothing of what we take for granted: telephones, plumbing, typing, etc.


I love that story - and what a great question. I would say that you have to step back and gain perspective to see the obvious. I like to meditate, ask opinions of others (especially those that have no idea what I'm talking about), and if there's time, do a little research to see what others have done.

Graham Horton

I believe that being able to see the obvious is the most important creative thinking ability (along with being able to associate quickly and voluminously).

Here are two methods we often use in innovation workshops (and which I teach to students):

1) Kids day. It's open day at work, and kids have come in to look around and see what their parents do all day. Explain to them what you do and how things work here. Encourage the "kids" to ask that classic question "why?" You will find yourself (re-)discovering all sorts of fundamental facts and assumptions about what you do.

2) The Pathologist. Act like a forensic pathologist conducting an autopsy. Examine your subject carefully and record even the smallest observations into the microphone ("The subject is male, about 30 years old, and roughly 180cm tall...") With practice, you will learn to see lots of obvious things this way.


If you really want to see the obvious and the not so obvious talk to a nine year old child. They have no big picture in mind and are not limited by corporate directives.

Mary Durfee

In some cases, I use a great bit of advice from Neustadt and May's book, Thinking in Time.

When a fire lands on your desk, the first question should always be "why today?"

Whenever I ask that, it helps me imagine where the problem came from, so that I can ask the various groups and individuals what they thought. It helps me see where it might go later. It prevents rash action that would only make the fire worse, and helps me see both the obvious and less obvious features of the situation. It leads to a kind of procedural creativity.

I don't know if asking "why today" about a product or concept would help one see the obvious, however.

Great question.

Yellow SEO

Very thought provoking Roger, I would say ask other for opinions, and maybe list your bias, patterns and tendency on the subject and ask others. If you can ask others try asking yourself what would people you know think based on your knowledge of them. Attaching a know personality makes it easier understand other opinions for me.

what would I do if I was friend?
what would I do if I was my wife?
what would I do if I was my kids?

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