01 Jan 2016
The year has ended–2015, that is–and thus begins the mass (if short-lived) migration of people from their well-worn habits into new and interesting realms of self-improvement and experimentation. How fun! Some naysayers bemoan the practice of new year’s resolutions, and their reasoning is sound. After all, if you really want to get better, why wait until a calendar date to begin that journey? Life is short; why not begin the process of being better now? I get it. But there is something about January 1st of a given year that serves as a helpful anchor, psychologically speaking, for a new habit, or walking a better path. If when early February comes, and you’ve kept your resolution–whatever it is–you can easily remember how long you’ve been doing x; since the beginning of the year! Along with that comes an easy motivator–you’ve gone this far on your quest, you’ve got momentum, so you can overcome whatever current struggle with which you find yourself engaged. Sure, maybe that is just a psychological misstep, and there is no real advantage to resolving to change as the year’s number changes. But, even if that is the case, it seems to be embedded into our minds–perhaps into our collective consciousness, so why not leverage it to help become better?
All that preamble is to say this: I have a resolution this year. Actually, I have a few resolutions this year, but there is one in particular that I would consider public in nature. I hereby resolve to do the following, as much as I am able, in 2016:
Each week in 2016, I will be writing an analysis/interpretation of one of Eno and Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies.
What are These Things, Now?
The Oblique Strategies were created in 1975 by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Some very useful writing about them and their storied past can be found here. The gist of the project, though, is this (straight from one of the men himself):
“These cards evolved from our separate working procedures. It was one of the many cases during the friendship that he [Peter Schmidt] and I where we arrived at a working position at almost exactly the same time and almost in exactly the same words. There were times when we hadn’t seen each other for a few months at a time sometimes, and upon remeeting or exchanging letters, we would find that we were in the same intellectual position — which was quite different from the one we’d been in prior to that.
The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation — particularly in studios — tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach. If you’re in a panic, you tend to take the head-on approach because it seems to be the one that’s going to yield the best results Of course, that often isn’t the case — it’s just the most obvious and — apparently — reliable method. The function of the Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt this attitude,” or “Don’t forget you could adopt that attitude.”
Who of us hasn’t found ourselves in the situation Eno mentions? Who among us has been stuck, and/or up against the wall, knowing that we need to approach the problem from a different angle? I’ll answer for you: most of us.
What Will I do With Them?
My aim is this: each week, I’ll pick a random oblique strategy from the deck,and write a post in which I analyze and interpret it in the most generally applicable way of doing so. The goal is twofold:
- I believe that these strategies are useful, and I want to share them with the world. What better way to do that then the internet?
- Having to write an analysis of one strategy each week will surely help to push me creatively, as much as I hope that reading said analysis will help readers be more creative.
Why Should Anyone Care?
This brings me to a very important point, which will likely resurface as I write about these. There is a lot of talk (and writing) about innovation. But innovation is a term centering around results, not around how those results come to be. Take a look at the definition:
1.make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.”the company’s failure to diversify and innovate competitively”
2. introduce (something new, especially a product).”innovating new products, developing existing ones”
Every company (or nearly every company) is asking for innovation as just another in a long list of required “skills”. For a while, one can probably get away with “innovating” by taking ideas from another job, industry, or person, and introducing them in their current role. That will only work for so long. After that, you need to create ideas and solutions. You can ask someone to innovate all you like, but what you’re really asking for is for someone to be creative–you’re asking them to come up with something new–to create.
I hope that each week, when I look at these strategies, and when people read my writing about them, I create new ideas and things, and help others to do the same. So, here’s hoping for a more creative you and me in 2016. After all, even machines can reason now, so we can’t express our humanity merely by reasoning. Machines, however, still can’t create new ideas from whole cloth (so to speak), like we humans can. So this year, let’s make moves to more fully express what makes us human: creation.
Thanks for reading.
Originally published at mikesturm.net on January 1, 2016.