‘Obliquity: Why Our Goals are Best Achieved Indirectly’ by John Kay

Well I read this book Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly by John Kay in more or less one sitting. I couldn’t put it down. I guess it has profoundly shaken some of my ideas about how to make good decisions, and I will have to weave it into my conflict work.

It is a well written and persuasively argued case for going about achieving things indirectly, in an exploratory, provisional way. And this is necessary in business, in our own personal lives, in our attempts to become happy and indeed in our handling of conflict. Life is way too complex for our goals to be always clearly stated and the author shows how the indirect approach allows ends and means to co-evolve and achieve better results. Clearly, there cases where a direct approach works, but not in the more messy, complex problems that abound in our lives, in our world of which conflict is often an example.

His account makes sense of a lot of my experience in the corporate world. The successful companies, the ones that consistently make money over decades, are the ones that do not make profit making their only over-arching goal. Instead the successful companies focus on a range of goals like making great aircraft or saving lives via new medication. And his examples from the pharmaceutical industry will please my friend Kate: J and J win for their indirection. 🙂

So don’t read this book if you don’t want your world view shaken up. I guess it is the perfect anti-dote to the sort of process discipline that I like; but in reality it is a call to use good process wisely, imaginatively, creatively rather than a call for anarchy or irrationality. It is consistent with the Japanese approach of Kaisen or continuous incremental improvement. And it is in a way a transcendence of the right/left dichotomy that seems to have lost its heuristic power.

Incidentally, the book is full of great quotes:

Tell all the truth, but tell it slant. Success in circuit lies.’ Emily Dickinson

‘Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one – and not necessarily the primary one. Yes, they seek profits, but they are equally guided by a core ideology – core values and a sense of purpose beyond just making money. Yet paradoxically, the visionary companies, make more money than the purely profit driven companies.

Jim Collins and Jerry Portas. Built to Last

And central to his view is Benjamin Franklin’s:

‘So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one had in mind to do.’

This is John and see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kay_(economist)


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Book Reviews, Economic Conflict, Uncategorized, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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