Why do prompts from Oblique Strategies work?

“Oblique Strategies” consists of a deck of cards with prompts meant to stimulate non-linear thinking. These phrases are intentionally open-ended and encourage considering a problem from a fresh perspective.

They do two things:

  1. Help restate the problem.
  2. Provide an intermediary one with multiple right solutions.

One of Brian Eno’s prompts is “Build the edges first”. I imagine him working through the song and thinking about what are the edges of his piece. They could mean loop bars, notes, or the frequency of the music—or something entirely new.

Three types of “edge” in a song.

Because of the prompts’ open-ended feature, whatever meaning he’d chosen, he would’ve solved it, giving him both a new direction and the usual “high” that comes with making progress when you’re stuck.

I use these cards while working on ad copy, redesigns, or customer discovery workshops. Sometimes they open up an idea that I haven’t thought about, while other times they’re just a nuisance. It’s a coin toss, but it’s worth it.

You can clone the Github repository and add your own here.