Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Those who’ve read my published work will know I’m a great admirer of John Kay, the Edinburgh-born economist, business strategist and Financial Times columnist. I especially enjoyed his two eminently readable short books collected from his FT columns, Everlasting Lightbulbs (on economics) and The Hare and the Tortoise (great case study material on business strategy). Kay is one of the best exponents of the ‘distinctive capabilities’ view of strategy, and has been further endeared to me by his habit of writing while walking in Provence, one of my favourite parts of the world.So I’m approaching his latest book with great interest. I confess I have yet to read Obliquity: why our goals are best pursued indirectly, but I’ve read his introductory article on the subject in Management Today, and I’ve warmed to his themes of maintaining a flexible approach, thinking laterally, always looking out for new knowledge, and taking a roundabout route to success.

These themes ought to resonate with anyone who has ever tried to facilitate learning, as simply reciting a litany of facts and figures is rarely the best way to help people absorb and apply new ideas. People learn better by tackling subjects in different ways, via discussions, reflection and activities, and by interchanging ideas with the facilitators of their learning. It makes sense that the same approach should work in pursuing business goals. Perhaps learning and development professionals have been pioneers in the new science of obliquity?

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