One of the things about grant, proposal and thesis writing is the need to be creative. Not to make stuff up, but to be creative in order to make the writing interesting. And, even if you’re not interested in being creative in those pursuits, surely you see the need to be creative on social media. However, most of you might be thinking “there’s only so many ways you can tweet how much you liked an article.”
So, how do you get more creative?
One way is to use oblique strategies.
In 1975, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, created a series of cards called Oblique Strategies.
Brian Eno is among other things, a music producer. He has worked with many famous musicians including David Bowie, U2, and Cold Play. He often needed to encourage creativity within the musicians he was producing. Peter Schmidt was an artist who, himself, was trying to be more creative.
Eno and Schmidt separately, and then together, embarked on a process to make a list of phrases (strategies) to encourage diverse (oblique) thinking. Learning of their respective endeavours, they combined their efforts into what is now known as Oblique Strategies Cards. And for those of us in the digital age, there is an app too (Apple, Google).
Now, this is a very specific form of creativity. And, to my way of thinking, it fits with the idea of constraining yourself in order to get more creative. James Clear writes about it here (as well as in his book). And, there are many examples of this. Famously, Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham using only 50 words. And that effort followed Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat – which used only 236 words. Eno himself talks about constraining yourself in his role creating the Microsoft Sound.
GE engineers developed an ECG device based on constraints – money, development time, portability, operational costs – imposed by head office.
COVID-19 restrictions resulted in the increased use of the digital commute and in many cases the post-COVID-19 normal will allow far more workers to keep digitally commuting. Even though everything required to facilitate working from home was operational and effective prior – internet, existing distributed workforce, videoconferencing – it was the constraint of COVID that made everyone give it a go.
So, the next time you are writing a grant, proposal, tender, paper, or social media post and struggling to get ideas, make up a constraint and see how you go. I first heard about this approach on a podcast – Planet Money. Specifically episode 736. The episode itself is a great example of using the approach to create a podcast. And importantly, they demonstrate the value of sticking with using the strategy even when you think it does not apply or will be too hard in your situation.
Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He loves helping entrepreneurs live their dreams. He finds that nothing is quite as satisfying as helping someone write a grant for research project; or bringing a life-goal to reality. He is driven by the challenge of helping people be commercially smart.
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