Roger von Oech

Creative Think

What I Post About:

AddThis Feed Button

« New York Times Praises New Whack Edition | Main | My Luis Buñuel Marathon »



I read this last year and had an idea but never shared it, I think the second post is prompting me to finally respond.

How about a simple LED bulb... It's sort of just an evolution of the metaphor to fit the 21st century and the emphasis on "green." In fact, a green LED would be perfect. So instead of an incandescent bulb over our head, a green LED lights up :)

I'd be happy to mock-up an image of the metaphor for you to share.

Free to think, free to believe

A white LED bulb? it has all the mythological reasons for the incandescent light bulb - out of darkness light and so on but with state of the art tech....

If we related to this 125yrs - are we not the same creatures still?

On another one - what about a landing on alien planet (Moon/Mars/next in line...)- either a probe landing or colonists landfall... the idea of exploration and finding enlightenment is much older than the light bulb though...

Free to think, free to believe

Pipped to the pop!


Digging into the metaphor a bit, the light bulb was effective because it embodied the "flash of inspiration". Light bulbs are a visual code for "A-Ha" much more than the work of Edison's team or even the changes in sociey that occurred from easy access to a "clean&safe" light source. I think the new symbol might need to capture that to be as effective.

The white light LED is the replacement technology for the incandescent bulb but it isn't recognizable enough to be a replacement metaphor yet.

I have taken to using a lightning bolt but not everyone likes it. We had to come up with an innovation logo two years ago and the team created a light bulb with a retro "solar system" atom inside it - I didn't like it but had to live with the team decision.

So far it seems that most visual metaphors usually use only one aspect of the "target". Maybe there are some other attributes of new ideas that you want to promote and that will guide your symbol.


I seem to be drawn to natural images because they don't have product life cycles built into them.

Maybe a sunrise logo as the dawn of a new idea or an unfurling leaf as fresh growth? A water drop causing ripples for an influential idea?

Adrian Enache

What about an iPod?

Stephen Denny

Roger: how many environmentalists does it take to screw in an incandescent light bulb anyway?

I think the metaphor is safe for now. And who knows? The swirly kind with all that toxic mercury in it will probably knock off the Nehru Jacket for "metaphor most likely to be extremely cool one minute and then recognized as just a bit silly the next."


Intriguing! The lightbulb metaphor can also be framed as representing "comprehension" (oh, I get it!!) - an aspect related to but different from the "aha!!", "Eureka!!" moment. Picture the teacher presenting knowledge to students and watching the "light bulbs come on" as they comprehend its import, its application.

It's about receptivity, preparation, being in the "right place" personally, environmentally, educationally, spiritually,

I'll wager that the answer can be found through study of that unique book, "A Whack on the Side of the Head" by our esteemed moderator!

Dr. Zoltan

Here is the problem: many primitive technologies are embedded into our culture and never seem to go away. For example, let us look at Automobiles. They have "Steering." Which is a reference to controlling livestock. And "Horse Power," yet there are no horses in the engine. On our computers we use "Files" and "Folders" which are represented by old fashioned paper office supplies. Our computer keyboards are set up like typewriters and even have many extinct keys.

While I do believe it is a noble effort to replace the Lightbulb, it is the least of our problems! :)

-Dr. Zoltan!

Roger von Oech

MAWCS: I've read that LEDs are getting more and more powerful and consume less enrgy.

Free to Think: So, you're suggesting a "moon probe" as the new symbol for insight. Interesting! (Or, for the traditionally-minded, a Spanish ship from the early sixteenth century!)

Karl: The Lightning bolt: I bet Ben Franklin would have liked that as an inspiration. (Also Wonder Woman)

Adrian: An iPod? I'm trying to picture this. So, you've a picture of a person who's just gotten an idea, and over his head is . . . an iPod. Why not? Do think iPods will even be around in 20 years?

Roger von Oech

Stephen: "The swirly kind with all that toxic mercury in it will probably knock off the Nehru Jacket for 'metaphor most likely to be extremely cool one minute and then recognized as just a bit silly the next.' "

This is a very good insight about the new swirly MERCURY-laden light bulbs that many would like to have mandated for our use. It seems like it took three+ decades to get MERCURY out of our environment and food supplies. And now people want these MERCURY BOMBS in our homes. How many light bulbs does the average person drop per year? At least several, I'd wager. MERCURY home delivered!

Roger von Oech

Randy: "Your esteemed moderator" says "thanks."

I'm proud to say that there's only one light bulb in the new 25th Anniversary Edition (on page 149) and it has wings on it and is flying away!

Charles Cave

Considering the light bulb is meant to symbolise the sudden illumination of a new way of seeing, I would suggest a symbol that uses a lighting flash (for sudden illumination) and a diagram of the brain showing left and right sides. For me, creativity is all using the powers of our brains thinking in different and provocative ways.

Tanner Christensen

Interesting post! But I completely disagree.

The light bulb is the perfect metaphor for creativity and ideas because, like the light bulb, great ideas often seem to "turn on" at the flick of a switch.

Why change a metaphor that works so well? As for the light bulb being an "old" invention, that hasn't stopped half of the world from continuing to use it, has it?

Vitaly Kolesnik

I think we can discern between metaphor and pictogram. Light bulb as a metaphor is really dated and has to be replaced. I scream every time I see another book cover with it proudly standing for innovation. On the other hand, light bulb as a pictogram can have a much longer life, together with old-fashioned telephones, envelopes and so on.

Douglas Miller

The wheel

The big-bang

The corpus callosum - little sparks flying between the two hemispheres of the brain.

A baby - the most creative thing we ever do. A powerful subliminal image for creativity.

A shower (some of my best ideas come in the shower)

A toilet (Some of my best ideas...)

Instead of a light bulb could you have a scratch and sniff book cover 'pine forest smell just after it has rained'? Always gets great ideas into my head.

The 'water-cooler' moment - many of our best ideas at work seem to be connected with trips to the water-cooler and the conversations we have there.

A pregnant lady (great ideas often gestate and grow rather than come in a flash - I think we underestimate the power of idea-birthing and assume that great ideas come in random 'eureka' moments. I am not so sure).

A man gazing out of a window. Einstein and Descartes both vouched for the value of staring into nothingness for hours on end.

I use the metaphor of the 'dimmer switch'. The light might come on but turning the light up and down implies the level to which the brain is consciously working on ideas. Sometimes the best ideas come when the light is down really low. In the undermind or subconscious.

Milind Paranjape

How about an image of right brain? For example an individual opening the door to a forest/ocean and right hand side of his head is illuminated?

Other option is someone trying to cross the boundaries of conventional wisdom. For example someone is standing in the sand within a circle, and now that individual is trying to step out of it looking at horizon?


Perhaps a lock that has just been opened. This sort of embodies the same characteristics that made the light bulb such a powerful symbol. Instead of conveying the idea of illumination, though, it suggests "access." Really, in this modern world, access is a major obstacle to creativity and knowledge...access to one's own creative potential, to other's ideas (in the form of internet or books) etc.

Penelope Wolfe

Perhaps a true metaphor for" idea" would be "dawning" ,like the dawning of a bright idea. A mountain or hill with the sun well peeking over. This matches the birth of something. Incandescent lights still work. Water coolers are for 'techies', twistylights are about energy saving. We are already lazy beings! That is all we do is energy save!? AHA! another day. Say this planet wobbled and we didn't get that day?

Lauchlan Mackinnon

How about a 'spark'?

I doubt the notion of a creative spark will be superseded by either technology (I imagine cavemen generated sparks to start a fire) or political correctness.

The comments to this entry are closed.