Sneak Up & Conquer Your Toughest Problem Today!

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
Chapter 17 of Thinkertoys teaches a concept the author calls Brutethink. It includes exercises to help you force connections and relationships between two things with nothing in common. Gelb’s book teaches seven Da Vincian principles of genius. Including his principle, connessione - the appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things.


One of the great things about being an architect is the opportunity to work with a variety of clients with varying needs. Each client brings with them a different set of experiences and expertise that feeds the building project we design with them. And each project has its own unique challenges. Similarly, each of us here at CMBA bring our own special knowledge and background to each project. Within our firm, we share and learn from each others’ lessons learned. We are always looking for new ways to enhance and increase those opportunities and to encourage open, frank discussions. With our clients, we ask the same. And they should too. Their project is enriched by openly shared experience and knowledge from both sides of the table. We all benefit from the inflections coming off of this exchange of ideas. We just need to be consciously looking for them. We need to actively promote them. And we need to have a system in place for capturing them and bringing them into the big picture when we find them.

Better and better…

If you are already one of CMBA’s great clients - keep watching as we continue to get better and better. As we look for more ways to serve you best. And ways to provide an experience that leaves us all a little smarter, deeper thinking and better-looking than when we started. If you aren’t one of our clients, but found this article by chance. Be sure to demand your designers give you the same. Or better yet, get in touch with us and see if we’re a good fit for each other. We’d love to grow with you. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please be sure to share it with your network.

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