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Monday, April 22, 2024

Oblique Strategies: A tool for the creative

The best advice you’ll ever get, in a pack of cards

By OWEN RUDERMAN — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

As students, we can get locked into a certain way of thinking. It’s easy to tunnel vision on a problem or get stuck in a creative rut. Writer’s block always seems to strike at the worst possible moment. But what if there was a tool that could spur creative thinking? Something that could force you to look at an issue from a different angle? Meet Oblique Strategies.

Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards containing “over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas.” Developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975, they exist as a tool to foster creativity. One of the cards simply says, “Accretion.” Another suggests, “State the problem in words as clearly as possible.”

When I bought the pack of cards for $65, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And when I opened them up for the first time and read a few of them, I felt like I was scammed. The cards seemed useless and nonsensical. The box looked cool though, so they sat on my shelf for about a year, accumulating dust, used only as decoration.

But then I started my first quarter at UC Davis, and with it, my first creative writing class. I quickly found myself blocked, unable to effectively write. I was trying to brute-force the problem, but I ended up sitting at my desk staring at a blank word document for what felt like hours. So I dusted off the pack of Oblique Strategies and picked a card. “Water.” That’s all it said. But for some reason, it got the gears turning. I began to write about fire.

As it turns out, the cards actually are useful, I had just been using them in the wrong way. Sure, you can take the cards at face value and apply them literally, but you can also use them more broadly to help you think.

This is how I think Brian Eno, one of the creators of the cards, used them. Often considered the “father of ambient music,” Eno has had one of the most innovative and influential careers in popular music’s history. The Oblique Strategies give an insight into how his mind works and how he solves potential problems.

As students, having access to a tool to overcome creative blocks is a must. But if you don’t want to shell out the 65 bucks for Oblique Strategies, there are plenty of other options. Eno created a free website of Oblique Strategies prompts, and there are many other creativity tools for sale. Tools like these can help students to break through periods of uncertainty or doubt, and can help us to approach an issue in a different, previously unknown way, with a new perspective.

Life as a student can be incredibly isolating at times. When I’m stuck on an assignment, it feels like I’m struggling alone. A tool like Oblique Strategies can provide the help necessary to overcome those hardships. It can offer thought-provoking advice when I need it most.

Sixty-five dollars is a lot of money for a pack of cards, I know. But for me, it’s been worth it. I encourage you to give the Oblique Strategies, or some other creativity tool, a try. If nothing else, take this as a sign that it may be useful to start thinking a little more outside the box.

Written by: Owen Ruderman — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.



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