I work in a creative business. I work for a consumer analytics company that crunches millions upon millions of consumer data points every day. Creative? Really? No, it’s not because you need to be creative to make the numbers say anything you want. Nor should you assume that number crunching is inherently boring so could not possibly be a creative process. It has to do with problem solving. When faced with mountains of data it takes a really creative person to sift through the numbers and determine where the real value is in the analysis.

It is essential that everyone in my company be a creative problem solver no matter what their roles and responsibilities. That is true for every company I’ve ever worked for, and I’d wager every company in the world. I also contend that lack of creativity is the biggest problem we face every day whether you are a company, a nonprofit organization, a sports coach or discussing your relationships.

Consider Chinese high school students facing their Gao Kao; their state-wide University entrance exam. Every high school senior in China takes this exam on the same three days. It will determine everything about their future success. What (if any) University they will attend, post college job opportunities and their status. The problem? It is a test based on rote memorization, not critical thinking and creative problem solving. The biggest opportunity the United States has in business is to foster, from our educational system through post-college professional development, the skill of creativity.

A Whack on the Side of the Head Roger von Oech

There are 10 mental locks that keep us from being creative

My intention in writing this post was to discuss my bookshelf. Or, more accurately, the books on my bedside table, in my car, my backpack and the coffee table that I intend to read cover to cover very soon. I have a lot of things I want to learn, to keep abreast of and to share with others. I am trying to find time to read (or more precisely, finish) Content Rules by Ann Handley & CC Chapman, Get Seen by Steve Garfield, The NOW Revolution by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund and Snap Selling by Jill Konrath. And that’s just the top of the pile. They look great. They skim really easily. But the time to sit down and read them cover to cover is fleeting.

Yet, with all these new and fascinating books on my shelf what book do I recommend when I am speaking with colleagues, new graduates or anyone who appears stuck on a problem? A book that is over 25 years old. Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head. It is a book written in 1983 about the importance of creativity and why we should all consider ourselves creative people from the Admin to the CEO. A Whack on the Side of the Head summarizes the 10 mental locks that keep us from being creative. The “mental locks” are beautiful in their simplicity and essential spurs to unlocking the creative process. If you think through one recent business discussion you had that was contentious or unproductive, I guarantee one of these “mental locks” was the root cause. Take a look at the list below. Then challenge yourself to unlock your mind for creativity.


    1. The Right Answer


    1. That’s Not Logical


    1. Follow the Rules


    1. Be Practical


    1. Play Is Frivolous


    1. That’s Not My Area


    1. Avoid Ambiguity


    1. Don’t Be Foolish


    1. To Err Is Wrong


  1. I’m Not Creative

Next time I’ll tell you why you need a kick in the seat of the pants.

A Whack on the Side of the Head; Roger von Oech
Content Rules; Ann Handley & CC Chapman
Get Seen; Steve Garfield
The NOW Revolution; Jay Baer and Amber Naslund
Snap Selling; Jill Konrath