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Oblique Strategies

Listening to the Radio

This week I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme by Simon Armitage called “Oblique Strategies”. It was an amusing program and well worth a listen if you can still access the BBC replay stream here. Originally published in 1975, this was the name of a boxed set of just over 100 cards which were the result of a collaboration between Brain Eno and Peter Schmidt. The subtitle was “over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas”.

Each one of the cards carries a short snippet of text which prompts you to think of other ways of approaching whatever problem you are facing. Random examples are: “Be less critical more often”; “Is it finished?”; “Abandon normal instructions”. They can be thought of as a set of working principles designed to guide people working in creative fields through moments of pressure (such as when the studio clock is ticking and ramping up large bill). Both Schmidt and Eno realised that pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking that they found most productive when the pressure was off. The strategies were therefore a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking – to jog the mind.

Cue Cards

It was interesting to hear on the program from people using these cards in a wide range of situations that go beyond the original target of artists, engineers and musicians. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that we recently published our own set of cards, which are also intended to help give a new perspective on issues that you may be facing – although in a different way and for a different purpose.

I was attempting to describe this to someone recently and they said “Oh, you mean like Cue Cards?” I suppose both sets of cards work partly because they prompt us to reflect on  what they mean to us – to embark on an inward journey to make sense based on our own experiences and understanding. We have noticed how the simple physicality of being able to hold something like a card in your hand changes the way people relate to the ideas contained.

I am always interested in new approaches and new ideas, so I plan to get a set of the “Oblique Strategies” cards for use in our therapy room. However, since our approach is a form of “brief solution focussed therapy”, I doubt I shall be using: “Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify” as often as people who are used to more traditional approach to therapy might expect!