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Remove the obstacles preventing creativity.

Have you ever been stuck in a good rut? Have you caught yourself in the middle of an incident investigation, and the root cause continues to hide? Or maybe you are in a scenario where change looks like too much effort, and the prospects of doing the same thing again seem more attractive. You may also be struggling with how you could complete a planned eight-day outage within an allotted five days. You are out of ideas, exhausted, and helplessly grabbing for anything hint that can get you to another step. You are not alone.

"In Total Darkness" - Oblique Strategies

In 1970, an artist named Peter Schmidt created a box of 55 brief statements imprinted on index cards about the size of a playing card. He had always crafted things through art as he explored ways to unlock ideas, imagination, and creativity. If you look at images from his vast collection of artwork, they seem to embody a mystical interface between an organic idea at the precise moment of its origination. However, the utilitarian aspects of his collection of cards became a tangible mechanism to bridge this divide with a sense of fluidity.

"Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle" - Oblique Strategies

Within his collection of works, these cards have always grabbed my attention. He referred to them as “The Thoughts Behind the Thoughts” and intended to be a trigger that unlocked options for a problem. His philosophy was that the route to the solution is typically just beyond reach and remains camouflaged within the background.

To take the step towards the solution, an individual card would be drawn, read aloud, and then proceed with dialogue connecting the statement to the problem. Applying an undocumented and fragmented vantage point to the problem would serve as the required inertia that gets one closer to solving the problem.

"Don't stress one thing more than another" - Oblique Strategies

These cards were typically limited to only Peter Schmidt until he became friends with Brian Eno. At the time, Brian was a musician, composer, and writer in the British music circles. As their relationship became stronger, Brian began using the deck of cards and renamed them Oblique Strategies. As musicians would be in their creative art-making processes, drawing and discussing the cards enhanced the processes. In one example, while producing David Bowie’s album Heroes, Brian Eno and David Bowie claim they used Oblique Strategies on the song “Sense of Doubt.”

They each picked a card but didn’t reveal its content. “It was like a game,” Eno recalled. “We took turns working on it; he’d do one overdub and I’d do the next. As it turned out, they were entirely opposed to one another. Effectively mine said, ‘Try to make everything as similar as possible,’ and he said ‘Emphasize differences.’ -

When selected, the brief statements can introduce alternative routes, unlock new perspectives, and mystically seem to connect previously described uncorrelated scenarios. Those using the Oblique Strategies as creative guides of thought, insight, and discussion can get to a finished product more efficiently and with more color. As if these are the master key that opens the door to the solution, they serve as a tool to enforce collaboration. Practice with a personal challenge or a problem facing your team, and see if it provides a fresh perspective. You may find spontaneous insight as a needed tool to maintain the momentum toward the problem.

Lost in useless territory - Oblique Strategies


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