q&a with roger von oech

June 19, 2008

Today, we are the tour stop for the Post2Post virtual book tour. I’m honored to be hosting Roger von Oech, author of the new revised and updated A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.

I’ll be posting some thoughts on my own experience with the book later today. In the meantime, here are some thoughts Roger had to offer via a recent email Q&A:

Q: Richard Florida has made a name for himself by describing the Rise of the Creative Class in the last few decades. Between the first publication of A Whack on the Side of the Head and now, how have you seen “creative industry” change because of this growing recognition of the creative class?

I’m aware of Florida’s ideas, but I haven’t read his book. Interesting thesis, but personally I really don’t think in terms of a “creative class.”

What I have noticed, though, is that most companies have a much greater expectation that a larger percentage of their employees need to use their creative abilities in their work. In the early 1980s, maybe 10% of a company’s work force was expected to be innovative. These jobs would often be found in R&D and marketing, for example. Today, I’d say that 35-40% of a company’s employees are expected to look for innovative opportunities in their work. I think this increased expectation is a very good thing.

Of course, increasingly sophisticated computer technology has presented more people with greater and more powerful tools to do their work. This also gives them more opportunities them to be more innovative.

Q: One of the recurring themes in A Whack on the Side of the Head deals with how we lose that sense of creativity we had as children. As a father with three little ones, this is a topic near to my heart. How would you suggest we stimulate and encourage our children to think creatively even when the educational system might be discouraging that?

I get this question a lot. The number one thing you can do for them is to be creative in your own life and work. You are your children’s role model. If they see that you are creative (and enjoy doing it), they’ll want to engage in creative behavior as well.

In addition, give them time to play. I find that I’m most creative when I’m “just playing around with a problem.” It’s important for them to learn the power of play, and not have them get sucked into a lot of structured activities.

Q: Sometimes, I think there is an assumption that organization and creativity are in tension with each other. I’m not sure that’s true, and on Creativityist.com, I write a lot about shaping habits that allow us to find the space to be creative — whether it be physical space, mental space, or space in our calendar. Can you share a little bit about how you structure your life in order to maintain your creative edge?

Well, I work for myself. Thus, I have more control over my time than most people. But I also have obligations to my clients and business partners. Typically, I spend my mornings talking with people (designers, publisher, clients), and doing the routine parts of my business.

Then, from 11:30 to 1:30 I swim on a masters swimming team (Stanford Masters). I find that this really cleans out my mind.

My afternoons are spend writing and designing. I’m currently working on a follow-up product to the “Ball of Whacks” (that’s what I’ve been designing). Around six in the evening, I’ll call my manufacturer in China (it’s morning there) and have some business and design conversations. In the evening, my wife and I might watch a (foreign) film (from Netflix).

So, it’s a nice balance between business obligations and my own creative time.

Thank you to Roger for being available to answer these questions.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll post about my own experience with the book later today. If you’d like to visit the other tour stops, here’s the schedule:
Here’s the rundown of the tour that week:
Monday – Get Fresh Minds
Tuesday – Catch Your Limit
Yesterday – The Entrepreneurial Experience. Candid. Daily.
Tomorrow – Good Morning Thinkers!

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