As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently reading Tim Harford’s: Messy: How to be Creative & Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.
In Chapter 1 on Creativity, Harford introduced me to “Oblique Strategies”. They are intended as a creative tool for musicians and were developed by legendary producer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt – the pair originally both came up with the same idea independently in 1975, and joined forces to make it a reality.
Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards, about 7×9 cm in size, supplied in a small black box labelled “OBLIQUE STRATEGIES”. The cards themselves are black on one side, white on the other, and have obscure, cryptic aphorisms printed on the front in small letters.
Eno’s own description explains the idea very well:
“The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation – particularly in studios – tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach. If you’re in a panic, you tend to take the head-on approach because it seems to be the one that’s going to yield the best results Of course, that often isn’t the case – it’s just the most obvious and – apparently – reliable method. The function of the Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt *this* attitude,” or “Don’t forget you could adopt *that* attitude.”
By the way, Brian Eno had found fame as Roxy Music’s crazy Keyboard player and had also created a new sonic aesthetic called ambient music.Eno used the cards in song writing sessions in Berlin with David Bowie and Tony Visconti and Messy tells how “the strange chaotic working process produced two of the decades most critically acclaimed albums, Low and Heroes, along with Iggy Pop’s most respected work, The Idiot and Lust for Life, which Bowie co-wrote and benefited from the same messy approach.”
Here’s a few examples of what’s written on the cards:
- Use an old idea.
- State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
- Only one element of each kind.
- What would your closest friend do?
- What to increase? What to reduce?
- Are there sections? Consider transitions.
- Try faking it!
- Honour thy error as a hidden intention.
- Ask your body.
- Work at a different speed.
Have you ever tried using the Oblique Strategy cards?
I am thinking about buying a pack but will make a few of my own cards first and see how it goes.
I’d be interested in your feedback.