june 1990

A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation

by Roger von Oech, Warner Books, 1990 (revised edition), $12.95

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"By the time I became president of our family-owned Maker's Mark Distillery in 1977, we were happy with our modest success, but we were in a declining market. Distilled spirits in general were losing favor with the public, and bourbon whiskey was particularly hit hard. We were going to have to do something, not just to compete with the big guys, but to increase sales in the face of a declining market.

"About that time, a friend of mine gave me a copy of A Whack on the Side of the Head. It was a revelation.

"What it suggested to me was that there was a big difference between the detail orientation necessary to handcraft a fine whiskey exactly right and the way to go about marketing it successfully. It made me realize, somewhat painfully, that we needed to throw out everything we thought we knew about communicating with our customers and potential customers.

"I highly recommend the chapter 'To Err Is Wrong.' Sure, mistakes cost money, but not making mistakes can also be costly in the long run. Because if you're not coming up with ideas that fail, you're undoubtedly not seeking out the big ones that really do work.

"But as von Oech notes, 'Being creative and obnoxious are sometimes very similar.' The ad we ran last year with a dead horse in it, for example, did not amuse some of Kentucky's prominent thoroughbred breeders. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. At least we discovered (painfully) that our advertising campaign is extremely well read."

-- Bill Samuels Jr.,president, Maker's Mark Distillery, Loretto, Ky.