“Obliquity: How Complex Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly”

Originally posted in our May 2021 Top of Mind Newsletter.

In his TEDx talk from 2012, economist John Kay unpacks the concept of obliquity. That is, “our complex goals are often best achieved indirectly.” Kay provides a variety of examples, from geography and rocket science to architecture and philosophy, that show how sometimes the most effective route towards a goal is one that appears indirect.

As he says, “defining what our objectives are is actually quite complicated,” so the logic that we must define our goals and set out towards them at full speed tends to fall flat on its face. He goes on to say that “our objectives are complicated, and we learn through the process what they actually are.” While we can generally define our mission statement, it is only through the process of living and working through problems that we define what holds meaning for us.

“There isn’t a right model or a true model…there’s only the right model for any particular problem, and there’s no objective way for determining what the right model for any particular problem is…” Kay brilliantly outlines how we better understand our goals by trying to achieve them, and, with obliquity, we can achieve them.

Watch the Talk