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Although many people assume that creativity is boundless, oftentimes, it’s actually easier to be creative when boxed in by specific restraints.

Imagine you could create any dish you wanted for dinner. You’re not limited to what’s in the fridge. You could make turducken encased in an ostrich. You could concoct a fruit salad with only fruits native to Ghana.

You could.

More likely than not, without any sort of guidelines, you’d end up frustrated with analysis paralysis and overwhelmed with abundance. In the end, you’d make a sandwich and call it a day.

These are not the sandwiches of defeat, via FootosVanRobin on Flickr

Rather than smothering yourself in possibility, having initial constraints allows you the paradoxical freedom of out-of-the-box thinking. It’s like one of the ideas behind the Getting Things Done (GTD) movement: dump out extemporaneous thoughts to leave room for the new, the bold, the fresh.


There are plenty of ways to encourage creativity. Mind maps are popular, as is free association. But one of the pioneering tools in the field of creativity is the Oblique Strategies deck created by Brian Eno in the ’70s.

The Oblique Strategies deck is a deck of cards. Each card has a koan-like riddle or statement on its back to dislodge the usual ways of thinking. Instead of relying on rut-ridden modes of thought, the cards shift these usual perceptions and allow you forge a new path.

“Only one element of each kind.” (Make a minimalist fruit salad based on the shapes of the initial ingredients. Mix together a monochromatic four-course dinner. Thematically tie together your sides and main.)

“Work at a different speed.” (Pull out the slow-cooker. Sous vide tofu to an exact time. Flash fry a vegetable.)

The Oblique Strategies deck isn’t just for creative types. Improv and randomness are useful even in realms far outlying the “creative sphere.”

Here is an online version of the Oblique Strategies deck. Give it a whirl.