How an Ancient Greek Philosopher Helped Me with Come up with Creative Breakthroughs

Heraclitus is a strange and interesting man

Wang Yip
5 min readMay 26


Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

You might not think there is anything special about ancient Greek philosophy. I certainly didn’t. But then I encountered the work of Roger von Oech, best-selling author of such books as “A Whack on the Side of the Head” and “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants”. Any time Roger needs a creative breakthrough, he consults with Heraclitus, who was an ancient Greek philosopher famous for his brilliant and provocative sayings.

If you don’t know Heraclitus, he’s famous for the quote “No man steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Heraclitus has many more creative insights which you can find in his book Fragments or I’m sure you can find it on the web. Here are five sayings that have helped me find creative solutions to challenging problems:

That which opposes produces a benefit

You might not realize it, but routines prevent us from being creative. I know the best way to get to work, so I’m going to take the same route every day. Or I know how to make a meal that my family enjoys so I’ll make that every time I can. In fact, routines can harm us from finding something new.

For example, while driving, I decided instead of following the GPS that I would review the maps and try to get to the same destination through side roads. Although this ended up taking longer, I found on a side road a cool new restaurant to check out, a place that sells tea, and a farmer’s market. If I always take the same route from home to work and back, I might not discover new restaurants, shops or events along the way.

Consider one routine you do every week. Are there different ways to reach your goal? What if you did one or more steps in the routine differently?

Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight

Sometimes, we have to ‘forget’ to break through problems. Take for example a lateral thinking puzzle (I remember sharing these with university friends and it was a hoot):



Wang Yip

Author of Essential Habits. I write about personal development, work and managing your career. Connect with me at