Interesting Article: Obliquity, the Indirect Path to Success
I’ve been reading the book Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly and, while it’s really interesting, I tend to agree with some of the reviews that said there was a lot of repetition of the book’s core concept – that the best way to achieve something is to take the indirect path.
The main point of the book is pretty well covered in this article on obliquity by the book’s author, John Kay.
Kay argues (and backs with examples and empirical proof) that companies that focus on doing something (making products or providing service) really well end up being very profitable. Companies that have a primary goal of being very profitable tend to underperform. Boeing is held up as an example as a company whose mission was about creating and building great airplanes, not maximizing short-term revenues. Additionally, people who have a primary focus on being happy tend to be less happy than others…
Strange as it may seem, overcoming geographic obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting global business targets are the type of goals often best achieved when pursued indirectly. This is the idea of Obliquity. Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people.
So instead of focusing primarily on, say, patient satisfaction scores, maybe a hospital would be better focusing on the service… and the score will follow. Passion, rather than an obsessive focus on the numbers, tends to lead to the best results.
George Merck, the founder of the namesake company, is quoted in the article:
“We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been”
The Johnson & Johnson company credo has similar language about focusing on the patients and healthcare providers and
“When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”
There’s some interesting parallels to our approach in Lean. Focusing less on cost reduction tends to lead to impressive cost reductions… but the cost reduction is the end result of passion, mission, and high quality. Lean is an oblique approach, don’t you think?
I guess I’d ask — if you’re even aware that you’re taking the oblique, indirect approach, are you being too self aware for it to still be an indirect approach?