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Creative block? Try a worthwhile dilemma.

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 by Todd Nocera

One of the challenges of working as a designer is that creative muses don’t respect business hours. Sometimes a brilliant idea strikes at bedtime; inconvenient perhaps, but still usually pleasant. More troubling is when you’re on deadline and can’t find inspiration. Every creative has her or his own techniques for breaking the block. One of my personal go-tos is Oblique Strategies, a set of cards created by producer/composer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt. The cards provide provocative (read: cryptic) suggestions for solving dilemmas. A few of my favorites:

  • Honour thy error as a hidden intention
  • Don’t break the silence
  • What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving
  • Repetition is a form of change
  • The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten

I first got turned on to Oblique Strategies when I was studying music composition; indeed, some of the cards are specific to that medium. But most are universal (and equally useful for non-creative deadlocks). Give it a try the next time your muse sends you to voicemail. There’s more than few online versions available—and, for the hipster crowd, iPhone/iPod Touch apps as well. But I recommend the tangible version, available from the Brian Eno Official Store.

Holler back if Oblique Strategies helps you channel your mojo. And if you’ve got a secret sauce of your own, I’d love to hear the recipe.

is a member of the Content Bureau design team.

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