Periodically I pull out some prompters for myself that have given me a lot of insight. One of those ‘tools’ is a book and set of cards by Roger von Oech; A Whack on the Side of the Head How You Can Be More Creative and Creative Whack Pack respectively.  Once a month I pull out a random card and report the information with occasional references to how I have used (or intend to use) the tips.

Today the card I drew was ‘Listen to That Hunch’ and reads as follows:  “Your subconscious mind constantly records and stores unrelated data from the outside world.  Later, it combines these data into good answers – hunches – if you simply ask, trust and listen.  These hunches, for example, can lead you to taking a spontaneous vacation and away from making a bad investment (Von Oech ‘Listen To That Hunch’)”.

This ‘Whack’ falls under the ‘that’s not logical’ topic in a section of the book discussing hard and soft thinking and how they are valued (or not).  Von Oech states, ” Our educational system does a fairly good job of developing hard thinking skills,……much of our education is geared toward eliminating soft thinking (Von Oech 40)”   He goes on to say that we have based our ‘formal notions of intelligence….on logic.  (Von Oech 40)”.

Now, I can be quite logical, even practical, in making decisions and solving problems.  But there is also a side of me that relies a great deal on ‘gut instinct’ or what some would call discernment.  Both approaches have served me well in combination as well as individually.  Most of the time I listen to my gut and then go look at what might be wrong with a situation or what I might be missing that would support or belie my reaction.

Von Oech examines the ways in which people have thought of the mind from the view of the technology of their times.  One example he uses is early 20th century when people thought of the brain as a ‘vast telephone switching network with circuits and relays…(Von Oech 41)”.  After the advent of the computer that thought process changed to seeing the brain as ‘…information processing….feedback, processing and storage. (Von Oech 41)”.

I’ve been known to  joke that I needed to defragment the “hard drive” of my brain or delete some “files” to make space for more information and ideas.  The danger Von Oech sees in this is the possibility of people beginning to think about the brain truly as a computer which he maintains, “…may not only dismiss the soft types of thinking…but even [lead to] treating other people as machines. (Von Oech 41)”   This segment of discussion in the book really comes down to focusing on capacities of the brain other than just logic.  He gives a lovely description of the brain being “a museum..[of] …experiences,….a playground…a workshop in which to construct thoughts…[and] a cat to be stroked.. (Von Oech 41)”.

All of this discussion brings us back to listening to the hunch.  One of the ‘saddest consequences’, according to Von Oech is that such a focus on logical thinking  “means [that] the prisoner  may not pay attention to one of the mind’s softest and most valuable creations: the intuitive hunch (Von Oech 42)”..  What Von Oech was saying in 1983, the first year of the book’s publication) is similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s observations in his book, Blink in 2005.  .

…[B]ecause I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and,                    occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in “Blink.” Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.”

As artists we may sense things differently and roll thoughts around in our mind like cool marbles in our hand; we may be less structured in our thought processes.  What Von Oech, and perhaps Gladwell too, are saying is that soft thinking is okay – even preferred – when pursuing creativity.  So,don’t be afraid to listen to that hunch!

Gladwell, Malcolm. “What is Blink About”,, n.p. , n.d.,  Web, 4 November 2012,

Von Oech, Roger. Whack on the Side of the Head How You Can Be More Creative (Creative Whack Pack Edition),  Menlo Park:  Creative Think, 1992

Von Oech, Roger. “Creative Whack Pack”, Stamford:  U.S. Games Systems, Inc, 1992

‘Listen to That Hunch’

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