Shift Strategies

A small strategic provocation toy, built for Formation London.

I’ve known and worked with Simon White (aka purplesime) for … in fact, I’m not going to do either of us the disservice of putting a number against it. He’s one of those people who have a stupidly large and overactive brain, and whenever we have coffee, I always come away the better for the experience.

We’ve been seeing more of each other recently — he’s an active participant in Leapers, he wrote a post which inspired me to action to create the Manual of Me, and I expect there are more things in the pipeline that we’ll work on together too.

Most recently, though, Simon asked if I’d be up for helping bring an idea he’d had to life — inspired somewhat by Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies card game.

I’ve always been a fan of Oblique Strategies. I’ve always liked to find ways to experiment with my thinking. I thought about a way to create my own set of Oblique Strategies based on things I’d seen, heard, read and watched. I had this idea some time ago, but in a different format. — Simon White

Oblique Strategies, for those who haven’t heard, is a simple card game of provocation. It’s a number of statements, on index cards, which are designed to rattle you out of your rut, and give you a suggestion of where to look for inspiration or to break a blockage. For instance:

  • Use an old idea.
  • State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
  • Only one element of each kind.
  • What would your closest friend do?

Take a card at random, apply the question/suggestion to your challenge — and see where it takes you. It has lovers and haters in equal measure, and Tim Harford’s wonderful book: “Messy” talks about the effects it had on artists such as Phil Collins and David Bowie.

Randomness is the main theme of Messy. It talks extensively and insightfully about how attempting to put order to things can damage the ability to see new things, how even just the neat measurement of things can extensively influence and damage something overwhelmingly, from human behaviour to the natural world — and equally randomness, provocation and stimulation from surprising places has the ability to improve many situations — creatively and culturally.

This forcing of people to think outside of their current perspective, to say “hey, you’re no longer a human, you’re a cow. how would you solve this problem” opens new permission for the individual to think beyond what they’ve previously thought, and was the idea behind WhoZoo, a card game I designed some years back, to force people into new characters in the pursuit of new ideas.

It’s a simple game. There are two decks of cards: a state pile + a person pile. Take a card from each at random, and you have a character. For instance — a depressed accountant, a forgetful librarian, a cheerful undertaker. Then you can play games with those characters. What did you do last night? Why are you depressed? What would it take us as Brand X to make you cheerful?

As someone who’s sole role is to help people step outside of their comfort zones and explore doing something new — techniques like this are a fun way of violently shaking the firmly-held ideas of people, and saying “you’re in the unknown now, what could we do?”

Simon’s Shift Strategies is a wonderful twist on Oblique Strategies, in that rather than forcing thought by random provocation, it distills the existing wisdom of a wide range of speakers, thinkers and doers — people like Simon Sinek, Adam Gee, Adah Parris, Bruce Daisley and many others — into a single and powerful statement:

  • Follow your mistakes.
  • Look for the small and personal story.
  • Find simple tools.
  • Do the opposite of what feels right.

…and countless others.

What you do with those statements, how you apply them to the challenge, how you interpret them and how they influence what you do next — well that’s all part of the openness of the game. Some statements may just immediately trigger an idea which gets you over writer’s block. Some statements might force you to extensively explore a new route and realise where you were previously is already the best place to be.

Have a look at Shift Strategies here.


My aim in being an independant is to learn, and at the end of each mission, I’ll be aiming to gather constructive feedback from my teams, and curate one or two things I’d want to take forward into the next project.

  1. I need a deadline and someone expecting something — I’m not great at working where there is no pressure, and where it’s for myself. If there’s an occasional nudge or question “how are you getting on?”, I get stuff done quickly. Break things into smaller deadlines if you haven’t got a date to hit this week.
  2. Find simple tools — one of the provocations from the cards, don’t over engineer things if something simple will do. There’s no ‘database’ for this, we’re using Airtable to store the content, and a local JSON cache so it doesn’t need to hit the Airtable API each page call. No-one really cares how it works behind the scenes if it works.


Create a simple tool which displays a random Shift Strategy, but with a tool that allows Simon to add content easily.


August/September 2018, partnering with Simon White and Dan Bull.


  • Site build

This is an overview of a recent project from Foxlark — an independent strategy and innovation practice. We help teams explore their future, and make it happen sooner. If you’re interested in working with us, please say hello.