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Expect the Unexpected (or You Won't Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus Paperback – September 9, 2002
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The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus was the first "creativity teacher," says Roger von Oech, whose bestselling book A Whack on the Side of the Head set the standard for out-of-the-box thinking. In Expect the Unexpected, Von Oech uses 30 of Heraclitus's pithy and paradoxical epigrams to approach problems in a fresh manner. He explains his premise: "Creative thinking involves imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena."
Von Oech uses the epigrams as creativity exercises--accompanied by mental puzzles, anecdotes, questions, and punchy footnotes--to demonstrate that Heraclitus's 2,500-year-old creative insights have aged well. With his whimsical wand, von Oech transforms the epigram "A Donkey prefers garbage to gold" into an exploration of values. He uses Heraclitus's observation that "A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected" to examine the use of metaphors in understanding problems. When Heraclitus observes that "Dogs bark at what they don't understand," Von Oech crafts a meditation about criticism. Executives, students, teachers, and parents will find an exciting and entertaining map for changing thought patterns, tolerating ambiguity, confounding expectations, and searching for hidden meanings. --Barbara Mackoff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Von Oech, a creativity consultant, lecturer, and president of Creative Think, penned the best seller A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative (1986). Not as dry as the subtitle makes it sound, his latest book has certainly benefited from his recent studies of the creative process. Even though Von Oech does cite Heraclitus extensively (in Greek, no less), this is no classics text. Instead, Von Oech presents and offers his take on 30 of Heraclitus's epigrams, such as "On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point" and "When there is no sun, we can see the evening stars." He then lists questions to help readers apply the insight gained from the epigrams to their own situation. Each of the 30 chapters is bite-sized but substantial. Recommended for all public libraries; academic libraries would probably also benefit.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I decided to try this method out and, amazingly, it worked (although to anyone who has pondered the new understanding of consciousness brought to us by quantum theory it might not seem quite so amazing).
After formulating a specific question on which I wanted a fresh perspective and then asking "What do I need to focus on to gain understanding of this problem?" I received in answer Von Oech's Heraclitean fragment #9: "Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things." This resolved a problem that has bothered me for years.
But given that Heraclitus is such an interesting thinker, it seems to me it would be a pity to stop at Von Oech's limited selection. So for anyone who'd like to read more of Heraclitus I'd suggest they take a look at Guy Davenport's 7 Greeks, a wonderful book that gives excellent translations of the complete fragments. Davenport's translations really are superb and the 124 fragments he gives us, which are tragically all that remain of Heraclitus, take up a mere 12 pages of his book. His Heraclitus is pithy, pungent, and very much to the point:
16. "Awake, we see a dying world; asleep, dreams."
82. "Defend the law as you would a city wall."
97. "Life is bitter and final, yet men cherish it and beget children to suffer the same fate."
107. "Having cut, burned, and poisoned the sick, the doctor then submits his bill."
As a bonus, the remainder of '7 Greeks' is devoted to equally fine translations of six other fascinating writers some of whom you'll almost certainly find yourself liking. Who, for example, would want to have missed such gems as Diogenes' #36, "Go into any whorehouse and learn the worthlessness of the expensive"; or his #41, "Watching a mouse can cure you of jealousy of others' good fortune"; or his #106, "We have complicated every simple gift of the gods"?
As for the ambitious whose appetite has been truly whetted and who would like a little more than a bare translation of the complete fragments of Heraclitus, readers who would like to acquire an edition which gives them the original text with translation and commentary, I would suggest they look for a copy of Philip Wheelwright's Heraclitus whose translations, like Davenport's, are wonderfully lucid. Here are a few examples:
"We should let ourselves be guided by what is common to all. Yet, although the Logos is common to all, most men live as if each of them had a private intelligence of his own" (page 19).
"Most people do not take heed of the things they encounter, nor do they grasp them even when they have learned about them, although they suppose they do" (page 58).
Similar to Wheelwright's is Dennis Sweet's Heraclitus: Translation and Analysis, a much sought-after edition that is happily now back in print.
But whatever you do, you should certainly equip yourself with one or other of these editions. Considering that our philosopher, 2500 years before the advent of Quantum Physics, was able to intuit that "the cosmos is generated not by time but by mind" (Wheelwright, p.41) Heraclitus is clearly a thinker whose complete fragments it would be a pity to overlook.
Von Oech's fascination with Heraclitus goes back to 1971 while studying in Germany. Picking up a book of Heraclitus' epigrams, Von Oech became instantly hooked when he read "the way up and the way down are one and the same." He writes that this caused him to spend the next several weeks trying to figure out its meaning. Since then, he says, he's wanted to put out a "creativity tool" based on the works of Heraclitus.
And what a creativity tool he has created. His grasp of Heraclitus is firm and, moreover, he is able to apply each epigram he examines to the problems of thinking and creativity in the workplace. The reader will also notice a warmth coming through: a deep love of the subject and philosophy in general, something we do not always get from our academics, as anyone who had to sit through Philosophy 101 with a boring pedant will tell you. And Von Oech will succeed in doing what our friends in the ivory tower have failed to do, and that is to instill a love of wisdom in the heads of his students. For that, Roger von Oech, I salute you.