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Overcoming Creative Blocks with Oblique Strategies and Alfred

by David Yates

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably found yourself stuck in a creative rut at some point. It’s like being in a maze with no clear path forward. But fear not, I’ve found a tool (technique?) that acts as a compass when navigating the labyrinth of creativity - Oblique Strategies.

What are Oblique Strategies?

Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Each card offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists break through creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking, though this could be applied to any creative endeavour - programming, writing, design, etc. (we’re all artists in our own way, right?).

Some examples

Alfred to the Rescue

Now, you might be wondering, “How do I use these strategies without carrying a deck of cards around?” Well, that’s where Alfred comes in. Alfred is a productivity application for Mac OS, which I’ve previously discussed in my post about streamlining project management

I’ve installed this shortcut in Alfred for Oblique Strategies. Whenever I find myself stuck, I simply press cmd + space, type obl, and voila! A full-screen prompt appears with a random Oblique Strategy to inspire me and guide my thinking.

Putting It into Practice

Let’s say you’re working on a complex piece of code, and you’ve hit a wall. You’ve tried all the usual tricks, but nothing seems to work. It’s time to call on Oblique Strategies. You hit cmd + space, type obl, and the strategy “Work at a different speed” pops up.

This could mean anything from taking a break and coming back to the problem later, to changing the pace at which you’re working. Maybe you’ve been rushing and need to slow down, or perhaps you’re overthinking and need to speed up. The beauty of Oblique Strategies is in their ambiguity. They force you to approach the problem from a different angle, sparking creativity where there was once a block.

Final Thoughts

Oblique Strategies isn’t a magic bullet. It won’t solve all your problems, but it’s another tool in your arsenal. It’s a prompt, a nudge in a different direction, a way of shaking up your normal patterns of thinking. And who knows? The next time you’re stuck, it might just be the thing that helps you find your way out of the maze.


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