Feeling stuck? Looking for inspiration? Try drawing from Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards containing commands and phrases meant to inspire. Put together by musician Brian Eno and his friend, painter Peter Schmidt, and used while working on Eno’s 1975 album, “Another Green World,” Oblique Strategy commands include: “Try faking it!,” “Put in earplugs,” and “Listen in total darkness,”
The idea behind Oblique Strategies is that when we’re working hard, the pressure tends to push us away from the type of creative, productive thinking that we’re capable of when the pressure’s off. Ideally you pull out the next card in the deck, it breaks your deadlock and your creative juices start flowing again.
While many of the original Oblique Strategy commands seem designed with music in mind (putting in earplugs, for example) you can use the technique in any situation where pressure might be dampening your creative spirit, and if the command on the card isn’t appropriate or doesn’t work, you can just pull out another.
To replicate the technique yourself, keep a stack of index cards on your desk, and any time creative impulse strikes, write down a new command. The commands can be very specific (“wash the dishes”) or deliberately vague (“simplify”). However, note that the idea is that you need to have created your deck before you’re in those pressure situations and when you’re not obsessing over your work, as it’s going to be tough to come up with a bunch of oblique strategies when a deadline is looming!
Alternatively, if you don’t feel like creating your own set, you can purchase a set of the fifth edition of Eno and Schmidt’s cards for £30 ($43) plus shipping. Or there’s a free online version of the original cards here (which is also a good place to look for inspiration when thinking about creating your own set). There’s also Methodology, an iPhone app costing $1.99, which follows similar principles.
How do you break creative deadlocks?