I’m Going To Do Whatever This Card Tells Me

Oblique Strategies, Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, 1975

A place worth visiting today: a very strange deck of cards. A plain black box with large serif gilt lettering: inside the box are a hundred or so simple black and white cards, each with a short directive. At first they seem cryptic and maybe even counterproductive, but each of them invites us, as creators, to trust that they could take us somewhere valuable.

A classic bookshelf staple in certain circles of the world of music and art, artists Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s deck of cards are a curated set of creative problem-solving prompts, each posing a thought experiment meant to take you somewhere new.

Some cards, like “Do nothing for as long as possible,” challenge our assumptions about process, while others, such as “Trust in the you of now,” encourage us to stay the course and act on instinct. Still others take a more aggressively avant-garde approach, pushing one to change course in an unpredictable way. All of them are valuable, surprising, and open to creative interpretation. Proof of this are the several blank cards that decks used to come with – though if you have a more recent edition, you must make your own.

How to use them is not always clear: Do I draw one card, or several? What if the prompt does not make sense? What if I do it wrong? Could I do the opposite of what it asks? The answers, in order: Yes, it’s ok, you can’t, and why not? The cards are meant as starting points to help resolve problems in the creative process, open-ended enough to work in many ways for many types of thinkers.

Like any tool, the more you use it, the more useful it becomes. As a rule, it is important to trust them and to take the idea as far as it will go. It is important to stick with it, to not to move on to the next card until a way has been found to incorporate the ideas it presents, and ultimately it is up to the user whether to keep those ideas or whether to discard them.

Oblique Strategies are about questioning our processes, as well as a way of seeing outside our own perspective and returning to the problem anew. They are collaborators, disrupting and extending our ideas. And we can all use help finding our way, sometimes. As Eno puts it, “If you are excited by going somewhere new, somewhere you haven’t been before, then a very good way to get there is to start out in a different place.”

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