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Be Willing To Be Led Astray
May 29, 2002

"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing." "Elbert Hubbard


Roger von Oech, author of one of our favorite books, Whack on the Side of the Head, has a new book on creativity based on the wisdom of Heraclitus. In this book, Expect the Unexpected (or You Won't Find it), von Oeck offers the following advice on expectations....

"When we go off the beaten path, we often find something better or more exciting than we were originally looking for. For example, physicist Karl Jansky improvised a new antenna to study the effects of telephone static. Instead, he discovered radio waves from the Milky Way galaxy, and in the process helped create the science of radioastronomy. In 1856, chemist William Perkin searched for a synthetic quinine to combat malaria. Instead, he discovered a dyestuff that was the first practical synthetic color....

"Think of the times in your own life when one thing has led to something entirely different. How did you get interested in your line of work? How about the times you have gone to the library in search of a particular book, and then found something even better on the shelf behind you? As writer Franklin Adams put it, 'I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.'

"How can we prepare ourselves for the unexpected? I suggest that we: (1) loosen our preconceptions about what we expect to find in any given situation; (2) pay special attention to the anomalous rather than ignoring it; and (3) use what we discover as stepping stones to something very different. Why don't we adopt this outlook more often? A major reason is that in order to get things done, we tend to filter out information that strikes us as 'irrelevant'. Indeed I find that I'm less likely to find the unexpected when I'm in a hurry or narrowly focused on a specific task. Conversely, when I'm relaxed or playful, there's a greater probability that unexpected things will flow my way."

Both of the von Oech books can be ordered from any bookstore or through the publisher, Simon and Schuster.

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