In the 1960s, musician Brian Eno and British artist Peter Schmidt were collaborating on a series of creative projects. When they got together in the studio, they often experienced difficulty getting into a state of creative flow. Considering the cost of renting a studio, that was an expensive problem. 

So they came up with a series of suggestions that helped them get into the creative state of flow faster. They wrote these suggestions on cards that they could draw from when stuck. Typically, these comprise: questions, commandments or problem statements, like “Use an old idea.” Eno said about the cards:

“These cards evolved from our separate working procedures. It was one of the many cases during the friendship... 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, and upon re-meeting 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.”

Eno and Schmidt used these cards to overcome problems in their music and art, and Eno used them while recording David Bowie's Berlin album trilogy. 

Eno and Schmidt realised these prompts could help other creatives too. So in 1975, they bundled their suggestions and released them as Oblique Strategies.

I bought a set several months ago for about £40, and it features over a hundred different cards. Examples include:

“Don't be frightened to display your talents,” and “Cut a vital connection.” Another is, “Make it more sensual.”

Eno also includes helpful instructions with the fifth edition. He instructs users to draw from the deck when feeling blocked and to trust the suggestion they are facing. Eno said that over time, “New ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.”

I keep a pack of Oblique Strategies on my desk. When feeling blocked or just looking for inspiration, I draw from the pack and go with the suggestion. You might not be a writer or musician, but Eno's Oblique Strategies suggests creative people know how to ask the right questions at the right time. 

They leave themselves suggestions, cues or prompts from different disciplines. You don't need to go as far as shipping an official product like Eno, but you could write down a work suggestion on a sticky note and affix it to your keyboard.

If you want to write personal suggestions, reflect on the conversations you had, books you’ve read and the people you’ve met. What interesting ideas did you come across through these conversations and sources, and are you putting them into practice? 

Often it's enough to write down a suggestion as a single sentence and build a list of them over time. Review it when you get stuck or feel blocked. I went as far as turning advice and suggestions from others into a writing prompts generator.

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Thinking outside the box or being innovative doesn't necessarily require a moment of divine inspiration. It’s often about asking the right questions at the right time, and a suggestion (or a pack of the Oblique Strategies) can help.

I'm an Irish author who covers topics like productivity and leadership. Claim your guide to the latest productivity apps.

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