Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno

Oct 14, 2008 | Tech News

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Brian Eno, the widely acknowledged Father of Ambient Music, is a bit of a polymath. Besides his many musical accomplishment, Eno is also an installation artist, newspaper columnist, and a thinker of the creative process. I particularly like his Oblique Strategies, a series of inspirational advices which he co-created with Peter Schmidt.

Oblique Strategies started out as paper cards with seemingly cryptic phrases printed on one side. You randomly select a card from the deck, and apply the strategy to inspire a fresh perspective or light a new path to the solution. I’ve found it particularly useful when used in a group that is stuck at an impasse.

A few examples:

  • Turn it upside down
  • Do something boring
  • Listen to the quiet voice
  • Repetition is a form of change
  • Abandon normal instruments
  • Emphasize the flaws

Oblique strategies are available as decks of paper cards, as web pages and widgets, or even as an iphone application.



All knowledge workers are members of the creative class, whether we are researching human genome, coding software, marketing products, or launching a new business. The nature of the creative process requires us to think in terms of fresh or innovative ways, and experiment in our thought process before landing on one solution. But as humans we are often tempted to stay within the familiar and the comfortable, preferring tools and processes that we have used before. Breaking away from the established is a major key to being more creative.

In Grecian Myths there is the concept of mousa, or muse, who were goddesses that provides inspiration to poets and thinkers. Oblique Strategies serves as the modern muse for creative individuals. The phrases are meant to be cryptic so as to maximize the number of interpretations. They are not prescribed solutions, but will cause the readers to think in a fresh new way, hopefully leading them to a new perspective and new discoveries. I’ve found the cards to be very useful during design processes, when I may be unconsciously settling for “inside the box” solutions without really thinking deeply and questioning whether a choice makes sense. But I’ve also found it useful when I was being adventurous for adventure sake; the right phrase at the right time may remind me to go with what really works over what is exciting and new and inappropriate. And when a design meeting is at a logjam, randomly reading a card may help led the group into a new direction and hopefully a breakthrough.

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