Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review - A Kick in the Seat of the Pants

A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger von Oech provides readers with practical advice on what to do during the creative process. It is Oech’s continuing study after A Whack on the Side of the Head, which discusses mental blocks that prevent people from being creative. Kick is full of real-life examples, and thus engaging and easy to read.
Key points
Oech believes that the creative process is not a series of linear steps but an on-going cycle. There’s not just one type of thinking, but a variety. To be successful as a creative thinker, one needs to adopt a different creative thinking role during each stage of the creative process.

These roles are:
  • The explorer role to search for the materials with which to make new ideas
  • The artist role to take the materials the explorer has collected and transform them into original new ideas
  • The judge role to examine what the artist has created and then decide what to do with it: implement it, modify it, or discard it
  • The warrior role to take the ideas then judge has deemed worthy, and do what’s necessary to implement them.
  • This book comes up with plenty of advice for us to stimulate our creativity, by pointing out both possible mental locks and practical guidance.
  • These suggestions not only talk about being mentally creative, but also discuss what should be done and what may the reality be when implementing creative ideas.
People may halt their steps on their way to creativity, because of the fear of failure, routine or dogma that prevents one from innovation, bias from people themselves or from someone resisting the implementation of new ideas, or being misled by the eye looking for perfection.
Oech suggests us to open our mind to all possibilities, whatever big or small, old or new, right or wrong, usual or unusual. Techniques for manipulating ideas include: to adapt, compare, imagine, eliminate, reverse, parody, connect, and incubate. It is better to look for fun all the way through creation: believe it to be fun to motivate oneself; let fun things bring in interesting ideas; disperse what is clouding our thinking by going a little crazy; and get strength from fun to be persistent when moving from “what if” to “what is”. We should tell ourselves to go and do it. Whenever ideas, information or discoveries occurs, write them down. Whatever it is you need to do first, do it.
Keeping these principles in mind, we’ll get spiritually prepared for producing creativity.
  • Most of the findings in this book come from empirical observation, rather than theoretical or experimental research.
  • Some of the findings may have become common sense now, and thus not that striking.
Compared with other books, such as Creative is Forever by Gary A. Davis, Kick doesn’t show much theoretical evidence. It seems talking more from the perspective of corporate settings, due to Oech’s business consulting background. Despite the lack of academic taste, it does have a lot of quotes from prominent people of various backgrounds. And there are many inspiring cases to help understanding. All the arguments are convincing and reliable, though I count this empiricism as a weakness.
This book was published in 1986, more than 20 years ago. I found many ideas having been heard many times. Some of them may become common sense now. Several days ago, I introduced Oech’s four roles model to a friend. After knowing what these four roles do, he told me that this creative process sounded quite similar to the process of writing a paper, even similar to the process of gathering information about restaurants and choose one to have a dinner. This model provides a seemingly general description of creating something, or making decisions. Those ideas may not be very exciting or striking. It is true that creativity is everywhere in our daily life, and everyone has grown up from the creative childhood. Principles for being creative are familiar to all of us, especially when this book has come out for many years and these ideas have been quoted somewhere we have seen. This is not a bad news. It means that more and more people are creative already, no matter at which level.
Future trends
Kick provides good guidance for individual creative process. However, for people like us who are seeking for creative thinking strategies in instruction, Oech hasn’t talked to us in our desired way. Teachers have to interpret these principles into instructional strategies. Some ideas are worthwhile to be integrated into our teaching, to help students cultivate their creativity.
Application and development of ideas
To incorporate these ideas into instructional use, I come up with three aspects:
  • Teachers: get prepared
    • Be open to new ideas.
    • Avoid cultural biases. 
    • Get rid of dogma. 
    • Expect the unexpected. 
    • Don’t be in a hurry to make judgments (This is my thought).
  • Creative environment construction
    • Encourage failure. 
    • Allow imperfection. 
    • Make jokes/ Bring in a sense of humor. 
    • Allow interruptions of the routine/allow breaking rules, even try programming interruptions to the class routine. 
    • Encourage opposite opinions (better with reasoning). 
    • Bring fun things to the classroom. They can be objects, people, events, stories, ideas, etc. 
    • Introduce perspectives from other fields. 
    • Provide plenty of up-to-date resources or sources of information.
  • Instructional strategies of creative thinking
    • Elicit metaphorical thinking. 
    • Elicit visualized thinking. 
    • Making connections of seemingly irrelevant things. 
    • Ask what if.
Overall, this is a great book that has triggered my thoughts and built up my awareness of creativity. I would recommend it to everyone who wants not only to be more creative, but also to have his/her creative ideas progressed into implementation.