Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A book review by Bob Morris

Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus

Roger von Oech
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2002)

The fact that von Oech draws heavily upon the “ancient wisdom of Heraclitus” in this book correctly suggests what a creative mind such as von Oech’s can accomplish when seeing direct and useful correlations between an ancient Greek philosopher (other than Plato and Aristotle) and intellectual challenges in the 21st century. Von Oech describes Heraclitus as “the world’s first creative teacher.” He recalls being “infected” (happily) with the Heraclitean “bug” while studying in Germany 30 years ago. Now von Oech has written a book in which he brilliantly and entertainingly examines concepts such as symbol, paradox, and ambiguity in relation to creative thought. He offers 30 “Creative Insights” of Heraclitus which include, for example, these five:

#2. “Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it.”
#4 “You can’t step into the same river twice.”
#12 “Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand.”
#26 “Donkeys prefer garbage to gold.”
#29 “Your character is your destiny.”

Individually and even when clustered with the other 25, these “Creative Insights” may incorrectly seem unworthy of careful consideration. In fact, von Oech provides a brief but insightful analysis of each which effectively demonstrates the wisdom of #12. Truly creative thinkers are always alert to what I call “the invisibility of the obvious.” They are not threatened by or even uncomfortable with symbol, paradox, and ambiguity. On the contrary, their minds are stimulated by them.

Throughout his book, von Oech inserts a number of brief puzzles for the reader to solve. (The correct answers are included and explained within the “Final Thoughts” section.) These puzzles are fun to grapple with, of course, and presumably most readers will solve them of them. My point is, the answers to the unsolved puzzles are no less obvious than the answers to the others, no matter which specific puzzles the reader is unable to solve.

Frankly, when I began to read this book, I really did not know what to expect. What of value could I possibly learn from a relatively obscure Greek philosopher? However, von Oech had already convinced me of the value of an occasional “whack on the side of the head” and “kick in the seat of the pants” so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. (See #12.) As always, von Oech is immensely entertaining. He has superb writing skills. And of course, he is an immensely creative thinker in his own right. I strongly recommend this little (in length) book to literally anyone who wants to put white caps on her or his gray matter. Those who share my high regard for this book are strongly urged to read all of von Oech’s previous books as well as those written by Guy Claxton, Edward de Bono, Lynne Levesque, and Michael Michalko.

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Roger von Oech is the founder and president of Creative Think, a California-based consulting firm that specializes in stimulating creativity and innovation. He has given seminars and presentations to corporations worldwide, including Coca-Cola, GE, Disney, Intel, MTV, Microsoft, NASA, Apple, Citigroup, and the United States Olympic Committee. He is the author of two previous creative-thinking books, A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, as well as the popular Creative Whack Pack card deck. He lives with his wife and children in Atherton, California.


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