Roger von Oech

Creative Think

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Lewis Green


Not only do I agree and personally embrace failure, I sometimes take risks that are uncalculated because the worst that can happen is that I fail and learn more than I ever could with success.

Greg Butler


My wife bought me your book, Expect the Unexpected, or you won't find it two years ago for Christmas. I don't know if she ever read it but I did and it helped me by supporting my creative side. Today I came across your personal development site and guess what? I have one too and in part it is thanks to you! But first, I failed at two other businesses so you definitely are telling the truth in this article. Keep up the good work and thanks.

Valeria Maltoni


I would like a heads up on the release of your anniversary edition ;-) "Errare umanum est. Perseverare diabolicum." I'm sure you know what that means. I try to learn by making the same mistake only once.

Alex von Oech

"My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure." - Abraham Lincoln

Some of my greatest achievements germinate from seeds of nonsuccess. I find failure to be a powerful fuel (up there with fear, anticipation, hope, and the 'deadly' pride) as long as I'm able to use the failure as motivation rather than discouragement.

Blunders often act as a positive catalyst, forcing me to reevaluate my methods or "think something different."

Goes along with the "take one step back in order to take two steps forward" idiom.

Roger von Oech

Lewis: Thanks for your insight. You're still alive so I guess the worst failures haven't fried you too badly!

Greg: Thanks for the kind thought. Interesting that you mention my book "Expect the Unexpected." It was published six years ago this month, just a few days before 9/11. All the media and promotional efforts for that work were essentially wiped out for the next three months. I loved the ideas in that work, and I was able to turn some of them into another product, the "Innovative Whack Pack."

Valeria: The 25th Anniversary edition of "A Whack on the Side of the Head" will be published next spring. I'll see what I can do for you.

Alex: A lot of maturity in those statements. Best wishes to you in your current projects. I hope you make your mistakes earlier in the process rather than later. Also, I've always loved this idea: "take one step back in order to take two steps forward."

Katie Konrath

Recently, I proposed a creative project to a former boss of mine, and it wasn't accepted. So, I was left out in the cold, without the job opportunity in creativity I had dreamed about.

But, the rough awakening forced me to think about how I could do something else creative while I wait for my graduation, and what I could do to set myself up for the future.

As a result of that, I started my own blog on creativty ( and started reading as many creativity blogs as I could. I've learned an incredible amount, met some really brilliant creative thinkers, and loved how having my blog has forced me to think creatively everyday. As a result, I'm still terrified about what I'll do next, but I'm also really optimistic.

And I have to admit, one major benefit was that I discovered your blog!

I definitely recommend failure... even if it's stressful.

Tom Haskins

Nice provocation Roger! When we know what to expect, we plan on what will happen and figure out what we'll do when it happens. We're in trouble. Without realizing it, we're expecting the expected (white swans), over-thinking the opportunity, and trapped inside our conventional labeling of everything unfamiliar. If we're lucky, we will fail at this arrogant endeavor. We'll have an encounter with the unexpected that is a defeat for our ego, hubris and self imposed limitations. At this juncture, we face a difficult choice. We can opt for indulging in self pity or basking in a freedom from predictions. When we choose to be unencumbered by "already knowing what to expect", we can "expect the unexpected" (black swans). We then look back on the failure of our plans as a significant success. Without getting upended, we could not have become so empty, unassuming and open to serendipity. What happens next is better than previously expected or another delightful failure to embrace.


I used to do twice as many mistakes : doing them and then not admitting it.

When I started to admit them, wholeheartedly, I realised that I was more cautious in not doing the same again. In addition, it made the relationships much smoother both in my professional and personal life.

Scott Berkun made a very interesting essay about this :

The only problem is when you deal with people that don't admit their own mistakes. It gets really frustrating because you think that by publicly accepting yours (which is always a bitter pill to swallow) they will realise how much it does ease the relationship. But they don't, and instead take advantage of the situation and insist on the ones you've admitted willingly.

I found this happening many time in my job. What would you recommend to do in such situation ?

Roger von Oech

Katie: I've enjoyed visting your blog.

Tom: Interesting way of looking at success and failure -- in terms of "white swans" and "black swans" ala Nassim Taleb.

Cecil: Good point about the importance of acknowledging one's mistakes. Thanks also for the link to Berkun's essay.

Shakespeare's Fool


From an interview of Steven Smith by Guy Kawasaki

[Guy Kawasaki]: What is your analysis of Steve Jobs?

[Steven Smith]: Steve’s gone through a metamorphosis in how he works. He’s always been exceptionally gifted as a creator and designer, but he used those gifts in a way that drove people away from his company and minimized the talent and creative IQ of the people around him. Once he was kicked out of Apple, life began to humble him through his own health challenges, his reputation, losing what he created, etc. Interestingly, Steve came out of that time of his life with a healthier ego, because life had humbled him and he accepted the lessons.

At his commencement speech at Stanford a couple of years ago he said, “I’m pretty sure none of this [NeXT, Pixar, his return to Apple, the iPod and iTunes] would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.”

Humility is a powerful antidote to unhealthy ego, and we can either humble ourselves, or wait for life to humble us. There was a Fortune cover about one year ago that had Steve on the cover, but the two-page spread inside had six or seven people sitting next to him. We thought that picture said it all; he’s no longer in this by himself, and it appears that he recognizes that. As a result, he’s a much better leader.

Which is at least close to what you were said.


Shakespeare's Fool

Also, Roger, as I’m sure you know, it has become a commonplace among quality control people that
“It’s always cheaper to do it right the first time.”

But over in research, development, and in eigineering they have always known:
“You never get it right the first time.”

This was known long before Cicero said,
“Nihil est enim simul et inventum et perfectum.”
(Nothing is ever invented and perfected at the same time.)

Or as Albert Einstein put it:
“I thought and thought. A hundred times I was wrong. Then, at last, I was right.”


Matthew Cornell

I do think our culture is rather radically against productive failure. Comfort zone is king, by default?


As a mother of five I have the opportunity to watch my children grow live lifes experiences, both easy and hard. It has been a reminder to me of my own life that I have lived and am still living. How easy it is to get lost in our small mondain isolated little worlds. We forget lifes big picture. Opportunities, not burdens are placed before us as gifts to strengthen our character. We have the choice to embrace the experience with supportive family and friends or become hard hearted and unteachable. Our first more positive and in the short time harder choice will open up opportunities for us to develop and grow mentally, spiritually, physically, intellectually etc. We will live a fulfilling more satisfying life. Choice number two will leave you frustrated, continually searching for something better but you are just not sure what it is or where to look. Maybe because of fear to take a risk or because of a hurt from before you limit yourself to only a curtain amount of growth. We as people who share this same earth and all have the same potential. Some because of external situations must work a lot harder then others,( or maybe not). You may just have an unending strength within to help carry you through your days. We were born without limits for building character. No matter our circumstances,in us is the ability to become our own fantastic if we will allow us. If I will allow me!


"September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center forced architects to significantly raise their fire retardation standards in new high-rise building construction."

If only it would have raised our standards regarding honest investigations and presidential elections....

Rags to Wreckages

I came across an entrepreneur who has built 10 companies - but his first failed. He says that he embraces failure - it keeps him human!

I think that failure is like that - it reminds us to not be prideful, to listen to others and be aware of other people.

Failure can also be a hard stick - and sometimes you need to wait a bit for your ears to stop ringing before you can pick yourself up and move on.

avent breast pump

Experience is indeed the best teacher! When you look at the most successful people in the business right now, they all have the same story to tell- "THEY FAILED TOO MANY TIMES ASE WELL". Failure was a milestone on the road to success. They actually celebrated their failures for what those mistakes taught them – and used the experience to move to the next idea.

Legal advance funding

Failure indeed might to be a good thing as long as you move on with the lesson. I itself learnt lot of thing to see failure.Any time that it seems I experience some failures,I take time out to reflect on where I went wrong and i take the lessons I need for the future.This has greatly helped me to achieve more results.


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