Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oblique strategies provide a creative spark

Anyone who has a job that requires creativity — artists, engineers, scientists, musicians — has encountered blocks where the ideas just don’t seem to be there. While potentially frustrating, it’s not at all unusual and can be dealt with. There are many approaches to drawing out creative thinking, often with the goal of unblocking creative flow by guiding you down paths of thinking otherwise untaken.

A favourite tool of mine is Oblique Strategies, which started life as a set of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in the 1970s (and which have been updated several times sine). The Oblique Strategies cards provide a way to get around creative roadblocks, each featuring an instruction on how to proceed. By selecting a card at random and following the guidance on the card, one can ‘trick’ the mind into exploring potentially novel paths in response to the card. My favourite has always been “Honour thy error as a hidden intention”, but they are all useful. Here are some random selections:
  • Breathe more deeply
  • Use an old idea
  • Destroy -nothing -the most important thing
  • Think of the radio
  • Only one element of each kind
  • Would anybody want it?
Now the ideas that emerge may not be good ones, but you’ll at least have explored a part of the solution space that you may have missed otherwise.

For those interested, a current version of the card deck is available at Eno Shop.

There was, in the past, an elegant Mac OS X dashboard widget that provided access to the text of the Oblique Strategies cards (all editions), as well as a similar iPhone app. It appears that both are no longer available via Apple, possibly for quite reasonable reasons relating to copyright. I still have my app, though, sitting next to Bloom, Trope, and Air on my iPhone, and I still draw on it regularly for inspiration. It would be lovely to see Oblique Strategies made available in these formats again.


  1. I always thought it would be neat if business cards had the text written on them. You could give someone your card, and potentially help them overcome some future dilemma.

  2. That's a fine idea Tom. We all have future dilemmas to deal with at some point!