Oblique strategies

Anybody who has a keen interest in the collaborations of Bowie/Eno, will be well aware of the pair’s fondness for the Eno/Schmidt-conceived Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) devised in the early 1970s.

But, you don’t have to be a fan – or a musician – to be able to appreciate how fascinatingly provocative and versatile this little black box of tricks is.

Bowie’s original cards

“Then I got the small black box, and I did know what to do…”

And it looks like the great man got plenty of use out of them.

Most famously, Eno and David Bowie used the cards during the making of the now infamous set of albums known as the Berlin trilogy.

Image Source: https://www.wienerzeitung.at/nachrichten/kultur/pop_rock_jazz/940240_David-Bowie-in-Gugging.html

The intention

Each card offers a challenging constraint or gnomic suggestion intended to break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking or to help resolve a deadlock or dilemma by finding new directions. A few are specific to music composition, but most are more general.

Using the cards

Our own set of cards at Maier sit permanently by my computer screen, often used at random, sometimes just resting there and patiently waiting to provide some inspiration or a creative jolt.

We came across them a few years back and have not only used them with our own team and in designing programmes but, excitingly, we have also weaved them into Exec team facilitated events (back in the day when you could all sit together and pass them around!) to great effect.

Lockdown fun

As I was doing a bit too much screen staring the other day the little black box with its gold lettering seemed to call out to me – open the box! I did and oh how very illuminating they proved to be.

It’s up to you how to use them – absolutely no real instructions in this deck of cards

So, I started with picking 3 cards randomly to get me thinking more about lockdown slumps and joys;

Repetition is a form of change

Ask your body

Disciplined self-indulgence

Next to muse, look for extensions of these statements, see if they link together, and just to check out how each makes you feel and where you might want to take it to! (now come on – how flipping relevant is this chance selection?).

Then I moved onto selecting with more thought to build on where this had taken my thinking so far;

Where’s the edge? Where does the frame start?

Go to an extreme, move back to a more comfortable place

Gardening, not architecture

The beauty of it is, every one of us will interpret this sequence differently but for me personally it was reviving and put me back in touch with my imagination lifting me, momentarily, out of the schedule on my screen.

And, when we can all be in a room together again maybe we can share those thoughts! Or, use the creative jolt to come up with ways of using them virtually.


Final words

Is it finished?

Is there something missing

Go outside. Shut the door.