Well, these cards evolved from our separate working procedures. Peter [Schmidt] and I… It was one of the many cases during the friendship we had where we arrived at a working position almost at exactly the same time and almost in exactly the same words. I mean there were times when we hadn’t seen each other for a few months at a time sometimes, and upon re-meeting or exchanging letters we would find that we were in the same…the same intellectual position, which is one that 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 where the panic of the situation—particularly in studios—tended to make me quickly forget that there were other 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, initially, was 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.” And the first Oblique Strategy said “Honour thy error as a hidden intention.” And, in fact, Peter’s first Oblique Strategy—done quite independently of me and before either of us had even been conscious that the other was doing this—was…I think his was “Was it really a mistake?” which was, of course, very much the same kind of message.
Well, I collected about fifteen or twenty of these and then I put them onto cards. At the same time, Peter had been keeping a little book of similar messages to himself as regards painting, and he’d kept those in a notebook. And we were both very surprised to find the other not only using a similar system but also many of the messages being absolutely overlapping, you know, there was a complete correspondence between the messages. So, subsequently we decided to try to work out a way of making that system available to other people, which we did; we published them as a pack of cards, and they’re now used by quite a lot of different people, I think.
— Brian Eno in an interview by Charles Amirkhanian, “Ode to Gravity: Brian Eno”, recorded as part of the San Francisco Exploratorium‘s Speaking of Music series and broadcast on KPFA (Berkeley, California: February 2nd, 1980). Cited in “A Primer on Oblique Strategizing”.