Oblique Strategies

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Flashes of Inspiration

The first edition of Oblique Strategies were published in 1975 by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Two more editions were published prior to 1980. They were published in the form of a deck of cards. Upon each card was printed one of the many observations Eno and Schmidt had made during their work together. These observations were found to be principles underlying their efforts and accomplishments, based upon intuition and intellect. The early editions were relatively simple. The cards were about three inches by four inches, solid black on one side, and each card had one maxim or saying printed in undramatic ten point sans serif font face. Each deck came in a small black box with "Oblique Strategies.. Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt" printed on the box. Only 150 of the first edition were made. The other two editions were only a bit more aggressively produced, perhaps five hundred to a thousand copies exist today worldwide.

Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt were long-time friends and collaborators on many creative, engineering projects. In 1980, Peter Schmidt met an untimely death in Spain, which unceremoniously ended their collaboration, and for many years Brian Eno refused to continue public work on Oblique Strategies, in honor of his fallen friend. He remained the curator, but it seemed to somehow profit or commercially make the Oblique Strategies available without his friend there to share the joy with him... Well, anything further on that would be speculation based on uncertain assumptions. Suffice it to say the Oblique Strategies have become quite rare and obscure, and the deck of cards itself never achieved mainstream popularity.

However, for Christmas of 1996 Eno decided to work with a gentleman named Peter Norton and his family. They published one final official edition. They made the cards much more elaborate, with more colorful and inspiring designs on each card. The rules were also written in several different languages on each card. There were only 4000 copies of this fourth edition made, and they were presented privately to friends. It is believed this final deck has reached throughout the world, but it is nearly impossible to attain a copy, as they were not intended for the public. Other names who contributed to the fourth edition include: Arto Lindsay, Ritva Saarikko, Dieter Rot, and Stewart Brand. Eno has contemplated the Oblique Strategies occasionally since. He published a diary once which included contemplations of other aphorisms that he considered including in some future version, if ever he felt compelled to do so. As of this writing, he still has not.

Others have also contemplated such additions, most notably the Whole Earth Catalog. The Oblique Strategies were also mentioned briefly in the 1991 film Slacker directed by Richard Linklatter. However, so was a Madonna pap smear, so I'm not sure how notable the Oblique Strategies being mentioned in the film Slacker might be, come to think of it. To be fair to the film, it did mention in the dialogue five of the Oblique Strategies' maxims: "Honor thy error as a hidden intention," "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify," "Not building a wall; making a brick," Repetition is a form of change," and "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy."


Throughout the world people have realized a universality among these word combinations: they speak to the mind, to the heart and to the gut. Whatever obstacles a person may find in their life, meditating on one of these strategies can help a person focus towards their goal. These oblique strategies never provide answers, but they give a person impetus to look somewhere they hadn't thought of looking before. It's like having someone look over your shoulder and point out something you overlooked.

One can mull over the entire list of possibilites and choose the one most appropriate to the moment. One can opt to have a specific personal life issue in mind, or just attempt to grok the wisdom of the list as a whole without a personal issue upon which to reflect. However, we all have issues of one form or another, and exploring the list, most individuals will hear one cry out to them as words of hope, or opportunities to open the mind and think outside the box. These strategies were generally inspired by engineers and creative artists, but they speak to the entire spectrum of mankind, from architects to zoologists, and everyone in between.

Traditionally, the strategies are seen separately, on cards. An individual holds the deck in hand, contemplates a personal issue of any kind, and draws a single card from a shuffled deck. If only one card is selected, the proper procedure is to trust implicitly the advice of that strategy, even if its validity to the moment is unclear. One can choose to select more than one card as separate words of advice, or buffer it with the original situation.

"They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident." - Brian Eno

The future of this project is unclear, but it should be pointed out that each of the decks also included blank cards, encouraging the possessor of each deck to add their own thoughts and observations to the deck. It can be surmised that this project does not have to end with the untimely passing of Peter Schmidt, but that each person can opt to create their own deck from scratch, using Eno and Schmidt's axioms as a starting point and adding their own at their leisure.

The List

I do this with hesitation. The following list is unarguably copyrighted by Brian Eno himself, and will no doubt be removed from this guide entry by some uninspired lawyer. The intent of this document is not to gain financially at the expense of anyone, but to spread the knowledge of this little known but really keen neato cool idea. Furthermore, since Mr. Eno has had a quarter of a century to make this project commercially available to the masses, and has yet to do so, one can easily surmise he never will. So we're not hurting anybody here.

The following list is a condensed version of all four of the original versions, and also includes examples from Brian Eno's own publically published diary, as well as a version made public by the Whole Earth Catalog. It should be pointed out that there were several minor differences between each of the four official editions. Also, any two people would look at this list and go, "what's that one doing there," or "I know you like this one but I prefer that one." So part of the fun of this list is the endless discussion and interpretation it can stir between friends, especially if they've all recently lubricated themselves on alcohol.

There are close to two hundred examples in all, and a person reading this may opt to make their own makeshift version of the Oblique Strategies deck by purchasing some index cards and writing the following down by hand. Adding to or removing them as one so desires.

(Organic) machinery

A line has two sides

A very small object -Its centre

Abandon desire

Abandon normal instructions

Accept advice


Adding on

Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)

Always first steps

Always give yourself credit for having more than personality

Always the first steps

Are there sections? Consider transitions

Ask people to work against their better judgement

Ask your body

Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group

Back up a few steps. What else could you have done?

Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle

Be dirty

Be extravagant

Be less critical more often

Breathe more deeply

Bridges -build -burn

Call your mother and ask her what to do.


Change ambiguities to specifics

Change instrument roles

Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency

Change specifics to ambiguities

Children's voices -speaking -singing

Cluster analysis

Consider different fading systems

Consider transitions

Consult other sources -promising -unpromising

Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element


Cut a vital connection

Decorate, decorate

Define an area as `safe' and use it as an anchor

Describe the landscape in which this belongs. (9 August)

Destroy nothing; Destroy the most important thing

Discard an axiom

Disciplined self-indulgence

Disconnect from desire

Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them

Discover your formulas and abandon them

Display your talent

Distorting time

Do nothing for as long as possible

Do something boring

Do something sudden, destructive and unpredictable

Do the last thing first

Do the washing up

Do the words need changing?

Do we need holes?

Don't avoid what is easy

Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do

Don't be frightened of cliches

Don't be frightened to display your talents

Don't break the silence

Don't stress one thing more than another

Emphasize differences

Emphasize repetitions

Emphasize the flaws

Faced with a choice, do both

Feed the recording back out of the medium

Feedback recordings into an acoustic situation

Fill every beat with something

Find a safe part and use it as an anchor

First work alone, then work in unusual pairs.

From nothing to more than nothing

Get your neck massaged

Ghost echoes

Give the game away

Give way to your worst impulse

Go outside. Shut the door.

Go slowly all the way round the outside

Go to an extreme, move back to a more comfortable place

How would someone else do it?

How would you explain this to your parents?

How would you have done it?

Humanize something that is free of error.

Idiot glee (?)

Imagine the music as a moving chain or caterpillar

Imagine the music as a series of disconnected events

In total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly

Infinitesimal gradations

Instead of changing the thing, change the world around it.

Intentions -credibility of -nobility of -humility of

Into the impossible

Is it finished?

Is something missing?

Is the intonation correct?

Is the style right?

Is the tuning appropriate?

Is the tuning intonation correct?

Is there something missing?

It is quite possible (after all)

It is simply a matter or work

Just carry on

Left channel, right channel, centre channel

List the qualities it has. List those you'd like.

Listen in total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly

Listen to the quiet voice

Look at a very small object, look at its centre

Look at the order in which you do things

Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify.

Lost in useless territory

Lowest common denominator check -single beat -single note -single riff

Magnify the most difficult details

Make a blank valuable by putting it in an excquisite frame

Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate

Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and do the last thing on the list

Make it more sensual

Make what's perfect more human

Mechanize something idiosyncratic

Move towards the unimportant

Mute and continue

Not building a wall but making a brick

Once the search has begun, something will be found

Only a part, not the whole

Only one element of each kind

Overtly resist change

Pae White's non-blank graphic metacard

Pay attention to distractions

Picture of a man spotlighted

Put in earplugs

Question the heroic approach

Remember those quiet evenings

Remove a restriction

Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics

Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities

Remove the middle, extend the edges

Repetition is a form of change

Retrace your steps

Revaluation (a warm feeling)


Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the idea that they will improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap)

Shut the door and listen from outside

Simple subtraction

Simply a matter of work

Slow preparation, fast execution

Spectrum analysis

State the problem in words as simply as possible

Steal a solution.

Take a break

Take away as much mystery as possible. What is left?

Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance

Take away the important parts

Tape your mouth

The inconsistency principle

The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten

The tape is now the music

Think - inside the work -outside the work

Think of the radio

Tidy up

Towards the insignificant

Trust in the you of now

Try faking it

Turn it upside down

Twist the spine

Use "unqualified" people.

Use an old idea

Use an unacceptable color

Use cliches

Use fewer notes

Use filters

Use something nearby as a model

Use your own ideas

Voice your suspicions


What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving

What context would look right?

What do you do? Now, what do you do best?

What else is this like?

What is the reality of the situation?

What is the simplest solution?

What mistakes did you make last time?

What most recently impressed you? How is it similar? What can you learn from it? What could you take from it?

What to increase? What to reduce? What to maintain?

What were the branch points in the evolution of this entity

What were you really thinking about just now? Incorporate

What would make this really successful?

What would your closest friend do?

What wouldn't you do?

When is it for? Who is it for?

Where is the edge?

Which parts can be grouped?

Who would make this really successful?

Work at a different speed

Would anyone want it?

You are an engineer

You can only make one dot at a time

You don't have to be ashamed of using your own ideas

Your mistake was a hidden intention

For more information, try http://www.rtqe.net/ObliqueStrategies or go to any Internet search engine and type in "Oblique Strategies." You might get lucky.

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