Twenty-five years ago, somewhere above the Big Piney River in the Ozarks, I learned to see in the dark. No, it wasn’t ninja-training. I was in Army Basic Training on a five-day bivouac - hiking six miles into the foothills and camping in pup tents. We learned a lot that week; tying together the soldiering skills we’d acquired and the tools we carried. Better night vision was one skill that’s stuck with me and I’ve used almost every day.
Oblique vision…You’ve probably noticed when you try to see something in the dark - like a coffee table - by looking right where you think it is, you can’t see it. :: stub toe… see red… utter expletive :: But, if you look off to the side of the table, your peripheral vision helps you see its dark shape, so you can edge around it. It has to do with rods and cones in your retina - but I won’t bore you with details. It wasn’t until more recently I learned “oblique vision” was a term for this. I don’t remember where I read it, but the author explained how the military taught him the same thing. And how he went on to connect this idea to finding solutions to problems by thinking in a similar way. If you’re having trouble looking at an issue head-on, try coming at it from a different angle. The connections you find will surprise you.
Oblique thinking…With that new insight, I started digging into this idea of “oblique thinking.” I found a lot out there. A couple of artists, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, even developed a set of cards called “Oblique Strategies,” back in the 1970s. Each card has a phrase to help an artist break through their creative blocks using lateral thinking. There are even phone apps now that cycle through these phrases to do the same. This is the one I use. I also found a couple of great books to help improve your creative oblique thinking:
- Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko
- How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb