Whack To Be Creative!

By Kathleen Boucher

What are employers, schools and businesses looking for when they accept people into their organizations? Before you answer this question let’s agree that they already attract people who have integrity, intelligence and desire to excel!  What do organizations look for beyond a student’s transcript or a manager’s recommendation? It is no longer good enough to get top marks and not live a balanced life.

Employers, schools and businesses want creative individuals that can solve problems and be unequaled at bringing their products and services to market.

The problem is that as a society we have encouraged conformity and discouraged creativity! Yet creativity is exactly what present and future generations need to overcome existing problems and solve problems. Young children are already creative. It is as they go through life that their creativity lessens! It is time to give creativity a chance to flourish among young people.

Below is a simple exercise to test your creativity. It certainly gave me a fresh perspective.

The exercise is found in the book A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech¹.

“Shown below is a Roman numeral nine. By adding only a single line, turn it into a 6.”²


Have you figured it out?

This is what the author suggests, “If you’re “thinking something different,” you might put an “S” in front of the IX to create “SIX”. If you did this, you’ve taken the IX out of the context of Roman numerals and put it into the context of Arabic numerals spelled out in English. What prevents some people from doing this is that even with only three examples of Roman numerals-VII, VIII, and IX-they get locked into the context of Roman numerals. Let’s look for another answer. Can you think of other ways in which you can add a single line to “IX” and turn it into a 6?”²


“Another solution might be to add the line “6” after IX. Then you get 1X6, or one times six. Here the “X“ no longer represents “10“ or the English letter “X“ but rather the multiplication sign. Everyone has a lot of knowledge; by shifting the contexts in which we think about it, we`ll discover new ideas.”²

If you are tackling a problem and need a new perspective ask someone who knows nothing about the rules governing the problem. They may easily shift contexts as they are not limited by boundaries. They may come up with unheard of ideas that have viable solutions.

Do you remember The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that happened on April 20, 2010? It is one of the worst oil spills in history. Karan Jerath came up with a solution to prevent oils spills. At the bottom of this article is a link to an article exlaining how he did it; you may have a budding inventor in your mist.


Karan Jerath states that the oil spill was in his “back yard” so to speak and he did not come up with a solution immediately. He worked at it. Make sure you add perseverance into the mix when you teach creativity. Rarely is hard work excluded when going after a worthwhile goal.

My point is this. Encourage schools and organizations to make creativity courses mandatory and to celebrate finding solutions to everyday problems. A Whack on the Side of the Head is loaded with ways to get your creativity flowing. Read it with your kids. Celebrate that your children are innately creative and instill in them a love of solving problems. You have given them the greatest gift of all; you believe in them and their unique abilities. Fill their lives with the joy of helping others.




  1. A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech, Copyright © 1983, 1990, 1998, 2008 by Roger von Oech, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, 1290 Avenue of the America, New York, NY 10104, ISBN 978-0-446-40466-2


  1. A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech, page 21


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