A Whack on the head of hotel meetings

Is it really possible to make hotel meeting rooms less boring? Roger van Oech thinks so...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Hotel chain Crowne Plaza, part of the InterContinental Hotels Group, has just launched the second year of ‘Think Tank’, its annual drive to woo custom from the business travel contingent. This year’s campaign is all about innovation, and its first offering comes courtesy of expert Roger van Oech, who you may know as the man behind best-selling creativity bible ‘A Whack on the Side of the Head’. Von Oech has designed a ‘Think Box’ to be left in the hotel’s meeting rooms – which will hopefully help brain-dead execs come up with bright ideas during their conferences.

‘Meetings are successful based on how engaged the participants are,’ von Oech tells MT. His theory is that the three exercises contained in a Think Box will help with the  three biggest challenges: staying focused, being creative, and achieving goals. Inspire Boards, which are adapted from his book, are a set of mental exercises designed to get the creative juices flowing. Then there are Think Cards, intended to give people a new perspective on a problem – for example, encouraging them to laugh at it (‘I’ve found there’s a close relationship between the ‘Ha-ha!’ of laughter and the ‘A-ha!’ of creative discovery – if you laugh at a problem, it can free your mind from some deeply-held assumptions’, he explains, in case you were wondering).

And finally there’s his latest invention, the Ball of Whacks, a set of magnetic red blocks that fit together to form a 30-sided rhombic triacontahedron (‘geometry's most beautiful shape’, apparently; no, we’d never heard of it either). It’s kind of like a Rubix cube made out of rhombus pyramids that you can take apart and stick back together in funny shapes – the idea being that you can fiddle with it during your meeting to ‘release nervous energy’ and ‘prevent distraction’. We actually found it extremely distracting, but that’s probably why we’re not high-flying execs…

Von Oech is a big believer in off-site meetings (‘it’s easier to avoid being interrupted by fire-fighting’) but says planners tend to focus only on the practical details. ‘The Think Box also raise the question: how are we going to stimulate people once they’re there. They may end up not using any of the contents, but at least it encourages them to ask the question.’

You might be a bit sceptical about the artificial nature of these exercises. But we’ve all sat through tedious, never-ending meetings that achieve precisely nothing. If the Think Box can make an afternoon spent in a hotel meeting room a little more entertaining, then we’re all for it. Just don’t take his head-whacking stuff literally – you don’t want to come back from your away day with an assault charge.

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