Is is right to disrupt the planning process on the turn of a card?
It would not be controversial to say that planners like order. By order I mean a framework or process that guides their thinking. If you look at the role of a planner, it is trying to bring order by finding some sort of truth or insight to a problem.
Just as a framework can free a planner to tackle a problem, there maybe instances where it can trap a planner into a certain pattern of thinking. Whatever model a planner does apply, the planner should shape it and not let it shape their thinking.
This is easier said then done. I’ve been exploring the idea of introducing disruption into the planning process. My preferred approach is Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. Imagine a deck of a 101 unique cards each with an aphorism or suggestion that can be applied. These suggestions could be quite prescriptive such as:
Eno applied the techniques with David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger) on a number of different recordings. This lateral form of thinking was explained by Eno.
The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation – particularly in studios – tended to make me quickly forget that there were others 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 was, initially, 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.¹
Does the lateral form of thinking sit at odds with critical thinking at the heart of planning? In graft and craft: What makes a planner, Martin Weigel talks of the role of a planner being defined by technique and craft over time.
He talks passionately of planning as a discipline, and I see no reason why Oblique Strategies cannot supplement the core craft of planning.
planning must be stimulating, imaginative, intuitive and opinionated
Adding an element of disruption to planning is not going to be right for every scenario and my recommendation is that it should be used sparingly. I tend to use Oblique Strategies when I’m stuck in rut or a pattern of thinking. That is when it effectively guides my train of thinking into unfamiliar and uncomfortable areas.
Originally Oblique Strategies came beautifully boxed up however not very practical if you’re out and about.
But you can use the Oblique Strategies app.
I see a lot of ways in which you can experiment with the structure and form of OS. I like the idea of having a cut down version or a set of personalised suggestions that a planner can use to disrupt the planning process.
With this in mind I’ve ordered Artefact Cards from John Willshire. I like the physicality of having a deck of cards to hand and the fact that you can easily add or takeaway suggestions.
It’s not disruption for the sake of it more a case of changing a thought’s trajectory. Jurgen Habermas said it best:
Since our complex societies are highly susceptible to interferences and accidents, they certainly offer ideal opportunities for a prompt disruption of normal activities.