Why do prompts from Oblique Strategies work?

“Oblique Strategies” is a tool for fostering creativity and facilitating the resolution of problems. Developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, it consists of a deck of cards bearing phrases meant to stimulate innovative thinking. These phrases are intentionally open-ended and encourage us to consider a problem from a fresh perspective or to approach it in a non-linear way

The prompts are general truths, aphorisms, or gnomics.

They do two things:

  1. Help us restate the problem.
  2. Give us an intermediary problem that has multiple right solutions.

One of Brian Eno’s prompts is “Build the edges first”. He’d be using it while working on a song. Imagine a song, or better yet, try to imagine the visual representations we associate with music. It could be bars, notes, or the frequency of the music.

Here’s a potentiat solution for the “edges” of a song.

Three types of “edge” in a song.

You have just gave your working memory a new intermediary problem. Finding what the edges mean. Because there’s no right or wrong solution you can achieve the end results of problem-solving. The reward mechanism kicks in a shot of dopamine and you can get back to the original problem with an alternative path toward the solution + the improved mood.

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