SLG Beyond the Book: UNTHINK by Erik Wahl

How pharma DMs can break out of the creativity coma

My son Andrew recently got a magic 8 ball toy.

Remember them?

Just ask it a yes/no question, shake it and a little triangle inside floats around in some toxic blue liquid to reveal a “magic” answer to your question in a viewing window.

8 Ball Top

So fun.

In the spirit of full transparency, Andrew spends most of his time asking it if his sister Mollie is stupid or if I will let him eat an entire bag of ginger snap cookies before bed…but I’m going to ask it a much more serious question right now.

Literally – sitting right here at my kitchen table.


Here goes (and I’m asking this about YOU)

“Has your creativity been lulled to sleep by the regulated and repetitive nature of the pharmaceutical sales industry?”

8 Ball Pic Answer

Uh oh.

I know what that means.


If even through the silliness of that lead-in story you answered the question with a YES, then Erik Wahl wrote his book for you:  UNThink:  Rediscover Your Creative Genius.

I can say that with confidence because it wasn’t long ago that I answered that question with a YES.

UNThink provides some incredible perspective directly aimed at folks in the corporate world who have lost their creative genius (or have had it driven from them…) and some practical ways to rediscover it.  In short:  some ways to un-think how we’ve been taught to think.

Much like I did in my last book review, I’ll share some key takeaways here versus a long, narrative recap of the book.  Frankly, I recommend buying it and devouring the content in a weekend like I did to get the full story.  At roughly 200 well written pages, it’s entirely doable.

That said, here are the 8 things I will be taking “Beyond the Book” from UNThink and bringing to life in my own world to continue rediscovering my creative genius.  My hope is that you’ll be inspired to read the book and put into practice a few that resonate with you:

  1. Later means never:  Wahl makes the point that re-engaging with our life as children begins the process of rediscovering creative genius.  As children, we were spontaneous creators and explorers…always embracing the moment.  We lose that as adults, erring on the side of waiting and worrying about process, procedures and what people will think.  Need to embrace the NOW more.
  2. Play is the supreme catalyst:  Wahl cites Roy Williams, founder of the Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas, as saying that “play requires the relaxation of the uptight mind.  We are rejuvenated and revitalized by it.  Children are happy because they play.  Adults are unhappy because they do not.”  Need to PLAY more at work.  unthink
  3. Live with some discomfort:  The process and procedure of pharma can make one quite comfortable, or comatose even.  Wahl suggests that awakening the artist within us “takes an ability to choose ‘right’ over ‘want.'”  And this in turn might require us to be uncomfortable.  This is good.  Must get into appropriately uncomfortable situations.
  4. Make discovery as valuable as data:  In sales it is natural to depend on and reward the numbers…data.  But creativity requires seeing the value in discovery.  Wahl drives this point home by suggesting that “while not every discovery will lead to a breakthrough, every discovery will build your muscles in innovation…”  Find places to reward discovery.
  5. Do the next thing on your heart:  In speaking to the power of conviction to drive creativity, Wahl drives home the importance of following what you believe in today.  He goes as far as to suggest that all of our big picture thinking isn’t nearly as important as the small picture when it comes to living out our convictions.  Follow my heart today.
  6. Refuse to be overwhelmed:  Problems arise daily in the life of a pharma sales leader.  In these moments, it’s natural to think of the worst case scenarios and negative outcomes.  Nothing kills creativity more quickly than that.  Wahl encourages relaxation as a tool to draw out creative flow.  Stay optimistic and relax.
  7. Surrender the recognition:  Wahl makes a case for the surrender of recognition to ignite creativity and build a powerful brand.  He notes that the strongest brands are recognized as such because of “…their determination to be led by their passionate actions rather than by their need for acknowledgement.”  Make it about more than me.  
  8. Work boldly, uniquely and freely:  Near the end of the book, Wahl brings all of his wisdom together in a rallying cry of sorts.  He encourages the reader to be bold in the face of fear and embrace the unique ideas that live within all of us. The world is waiting.  Be bold and take action.

I found UNThink to be a powerful reminder of all the natural creativity and passion we have inside of us, much of which goes hidden behind layers of conformity to corporate norms (some real, some not.)

This is particularly relevant in the world of pharmaceutical sales leadership, which can quickly turn into a Groundhog’s Day cycle of field rides, coaching reports and conference calls.  A creativity coma can easily overtake you.

In reading it, I was inspired to continue exploring and rediscovering my creative genius and pulling it through my work each day.

I hope you’ll do the same.

Until next time,


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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