‘Oblique Strategies’ for creative problem solving

One of the most well-known set of tools for overcoming creative blocks is the set of cards known as the ‘Oblique Strategies’. First produced in 1975 by music producer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, the cards encourage lateral thinking. On each card is an instruction or aphorism – some are vague and cryptic, and others are very specific and simple.

A card is picked at random by, for example, a musician in the studio, and he or she must then use the text on the card as a way to move forward with the compositional or recording process.

Many of the strategies initially seem constraining in some way, yet paradoxically these constraints or limitations can help creative people focus on a smaller number of options rather than be overcome with too many options and struggle to see a clear route forward. Limitation can be very useful for creative solutions.

Here are a few examples (in italics) and possible interpretations:

Turn it upside down.

Perhaps we could invert the melody or literally play our instrument the wrong way up!

Emphasize repetitions.

We might take this as encouragement to add minimalist flourishes at points where repetition occurs.

Only one element of each kind.

Maybe we should delete the second guitar part, or never play the same note twice.

Don’t be afraid of things because they’re easy to do.

Why bother shunning a simple melody or solo if it is a good fit?

Water.

Play a fluid melody that reminds you of a river flowing.

Do nothing for as long as possible.

Raise the tension and expectation by coming in later.

Perhaps you already have some of your own strategies that you can add to this list.

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