If you only employ one creativity-enhancing resource for the rest of your life, make that resource the Ball of Whacks!
Breakthroughs in effective creativity-inspiring methods seldom occur. Most "new" methods are simply restatements or reshapings of ideas that flourished among the ancient Greeks (such as Heraclitus, a favorite source for Mr. von Oech) or before. Those who are familiar with the earlier work usually don't gain much from the newer approaches. The Ball of Whacks is a happy exception. Heraclitus would say that you can never interact with the Ball of Whacks twice in the same way. And he would be right.
The most valuable creativity-enhancing methods I've experienced usually require having a team work together, with one of the tasks involving making little models or prototypes of creative concepts. I often find myself wishing I could have those experiences more often . . . but seldom having the right people and time to pursue that desire.
Then, I discovered Roger von Oech's Ball of Whacks. Wow!
My frustrations are now behind me.
This is day 8 of working with the Ball of Whacks. It's been quite an education. I can hardly wait to find out what I'll learn on day 9!
When you first see the Ball of Whacks, you won't quite know what to make of it. Open the box, take out the ball, the magnetic stand and the workbook.
Then, let yourself go. Discover what the ball is. To the geometrically inclined, you'll notice that it's a rhombic triacontahedron (try saying that 5 times fast!), a ball-like shape with edges formed by 30 rhombi (a rhombus is a four-sided equilateral with two pairs of parallel sides) that resemble scaled-down versions of an Egyptian pyramid done in red. The ball feels somewhat alive, however. It gives when you squeeze it and resumes it shape when you stop squeezing it. As soon as you take out a piece, you'll discover that the ball is composed of 30 design blocks that use magnetism to adhere to one another.
As you take the pieces apart, the ball disappears and many regular and irregular shapes occur. Usually, that's the end for me. I can never recover the original shape (my Rubik's cube is still a mess!), but the ball is easy to reform (if I can do it, you can too).
I like abstract shapes and I was pleased to find that the magnets act both to attract and repel the pieces. Unlike Lego pieces, connections can be made in all kinds of odd ways. I also noticed that the pieces often reshape themselves, almost organically, as they choose a different connection than the one that I initiated. The casual results are often better than my planned ones.
Based on a suggestion in the workbook, I began mixing in other objects that could be held by the design blocks. The results were infinitely more interesting and rewarding than anything I'd ever created before. I felt a great sense of peace from the experience. Many people had told me I would like sculpting, but I lacked the confidence to try. With the Ball of Whacks, I felt like a super sculptor . . . but without any lessons.
After several days of working on abstract shapes, I decided to try geometric shapes. These were paradoxically harder to do in many cases. The magnetism sometimes fought me. I had to design clever solutions to create the regularity I wanted to see.
I also left the Ball of Whacks out to see what others would say. Everyone noticed that I kept changing it. Without thinking, rewarding new designs would emerge in a few seconds. I gained confidence in my creativity involving forms.
At the same time, I was working on a number of non-physical problems. Soon, I began seeing metaphors in the blocks and my designs for those problems. New and better solutions began to flood my mind.
Feeling like I should read more of the workbook, I now found myself intrigued by the directions for how to use the Ball of Whacks to expand my creative repertoire. I began to see huge gaps between the methods I prefer to use, gaps that I could easily explore and understand with my new appreciation of my creativity habits.
Best of all, the lessons are deeply ingrained. The human nervous system is mostly made up of connections between the hands and eyes to and from the brain. By both holding and seeing what I was working on, the exercise connects more parts of my brain and experience. I find totally different memories being stimulated, especially those from the sandbox and while playing with modular toys.
Today, I went back and totally redid a book proposal I'm working on. I was astonished to see that my mind was connecting those little blocks from The Ball of Whacks into new ways of assembling the pieces of the proposal. I would never have expected that.
What does the name mean? I don't think there's just one meaning. It obviously sounds like "ball of wax" which is something that warms and becomes malleable in our hands. I'm reminded of the red wax that you peel off of Edam cheese to form shapes. At another level, a "whack" in von Oech's vocabulary is a way of getting you to let go of artificial assumptions. In that sense, this is a tool to give you lots of whacks. And it does.
I haven't done all of the exercises yet, but I plan to. Each of the ones I've done has been quite an eye-opener.
Here's a tip. Turn off the TIVO while you're watching television and use the commercial breaks to play with the Ball. The baseball playoffs are excellent for this purpose because you get all kinds of short delays.
Be smart. Give a Ball of Whacks to each of your children rather than purchasing another toy. You'll inspire genius that will constantly fascinate you.