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’From Vietnam to Iraq, Sony to ICI, Chess to mountaineering, John Kay tells a

fast-paced detective story as he searches for the surprising secret to success

in politics, business and life. Kay is persuasive, rigorous, creative and wise.
Brilliant.’ Tim Harford, author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life"

‘Read this book for pleasure, and indirectly – obliquely – you will gain
invaluable insights into how successful decisions are made.’ Mervyn King,
Governor of the Bank of England

‘an ingenious riff about unintended consequences.’ Stephen Bayley

Why our goals are best achieved indirectly
Publication: 25 March

Very occasionally we hear a brilliant new idea – lateral

thinking, the 80/20 rule, the tipping point. An idea no-one
has thought of but which immediately makes sense; and
which changes the way we think forever.

In a new book, world-leading economist Professor John

Kay introduces one of those rare ideas. It’s called
Obliquity. This radical new way of seeing the world applies whether you are planning
a city or a poetry anthology, going fishing or playing football. Or running a business.
Or indeed a country.

Obliquity is the principle that complex goals are best achieved indirectly. This book
explains why the happiest people aren’t necessarily those who focus on happiness,
and how the most successful cities aren’t planned (look at Paris versus Brasilia). And
if a company announces shareholder return as its number one goal, perhaps we
should beware: the most profit-orientated companies aren’t usually the most

Paradoxical as it sounds, if you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve
going in another. Using dozens of intriguing examples, Obliquity explains how. The
Panama Canal, for instance, follows the shortest crossing of America; and yet it starts
by following a south-easterly direction. The shortest straight line running from east to
west goes through Nicaragua, and this ‘direct’ route is much longer. The people who
first found this route weren’t looking west, and they were looking for silver and gold –
not oceans. Charles Darwin weighed up scientifically the pros and cons of a happy
marriage - but it was Emma Wedgwood who swept him off his feet. Some of the most
surprising examples come from the world of business. At one time Boeing’s leaders
would ‘eat, breathe, and sleep the world of aeronautics’. The company created the


3A Exmouth House, Pine Street, Exmouth Market, London EC1R 0JH
747 and its fortunes soared. When in 1998 it shifted focus to shareholder return and
return on investment the company, well, took a dive.

But the direct approach still holds sway. We expect our politicians, for example, to set
out a clear programme and not to renege on their promises, despite how
circumstances change. Somehow reverting to first principles still has its appeal: ‘if I
were to rebuild this business from scratch, what would I do?’ asked the bestselling
authors of Re-engineering the Corporation – a strategy that ignored a company’s
history and culture. (It was disastrous.) Le Corbusier attempted to build ‘a machine
for living in’ working from first principles. The flats were built. One small problem:
people hated them.

In Su Doku the world is certain and static – and people act as if the world is too, taking
the direct approach. But the problems in business are not the same as those of Su
Doku. So often it’s the oblique approach which turns up trumps. Today, we face
unprecedented problems: environmental, political, economic, social – and personal.
It’s time we thought obliquely.

John Kay is one of Britain's leading economists. He has been professor of economics
at the London Business School, and is currently a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford,
and a visiting professor at the LSE. He is the only professor of management to receive
the academic distinction of Fellowship of the British Academy. He has been director
of a fiercely independent think tank, set up and sold a highly successful economic
consultancy business and has been a director of several public companies. He is
available for interview.

Obliquity by John Kay will be published by Profile books on 25 March, price

£9.99 hardback, ISBN 9781846682889. For more information please contact
Ruth Killick 0207 841 6307 / 07880703741 /


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