Indirect approach to achieving goals
Indirect approach to achieving goals

This week I’ve been listening to an audio book that I got from the ABC Shop a while back. It’s called “Obliquity” and in it the author, John Kay, makes the assertion that achieving goals is sometimes best approached in a non-obvious, or oblique way.

He points out to his readers that most people achieve success by ignoring the urge to climb the more obvious ladder of success, but to be prepared to take the long and winding journey, even if it means sliding back down a few snakes. And he gives a plethora of examples to show that this approach is actually quite common. This ubiquity of oblique approaches, or “obliquity” as he calls it, is how he approaches most problems – in both business and life – now.

There are a number of case studies of large multi-national corporations, but also individuals, who have, for example, pursued goals of “profit” or “maximising shareholder value” and failed miserably. Whilst other corporations in the same industry have pursued goals of say, helping their customers solve their problems, that has led to much higher profits.

Our city went MAD this weekend. The local team made it into the Grand Final (Australian Football League) for the first time ever. And it seemed like the whole city jumped on the band wagon to celebrate with them. Everyone was so joyful. Tens of thousands of people flooded into the small seaside town to watch them play on the big screen. Pubs opened at 7 in the morning to accommodate those who wanted to cheer them on with champers! Thousands more bought airline tickets, bus tickets or even drove for thousands of kilometres to see them play.

But if you were given the task of making just one person, let alone a whole city, happy, would holding a football competition be the first method you would think of? I doubt it.

And yet the oblique approach obviously worked.

And even though they lost the game, thousands of people still turned out to welcome them home and show them how proud they were. A very oblique outcome indeed.

It isn’t mentioned in the book, but it struck me that in the ancient books of wisdom, we are often exhorted to pursue wisdom, and promised that riches, honour and life, will also result. And we are warned not to pursue riches at all. Or told that a good reputation is a more worthy pursuit than gold.

Jesus also taught His followers to take the askance path when He said that if they “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these other things will be added to you”.

I know in my own life, I’ve experienced some of the greatest joys not when I’ve been pursuing my own happiness, but, for example, when I’ve been planning surprises for others.

Last year, I wanted to make someone’s birthday special, so I started planning more than a month before and organised several surprises throughout the day – including a radio announcement and song dedication. It turned out he didn’t even hear the radio announcement, and I was actually more excited about it all than he was!

This year, I just bought a simple gift and sent it off in the mail. It probably cost about the same amount of money but took much less time, energy and almost no creativity. He seemed more appreciative of my reduced efforts, and told me it was just what he needed. But I was left feeling flat and like I hadn’t really given my best.

Since I’m quite a task-oriented person, I’m reviewing my current goals and turning a few things on it’s head. Some people think that when they are a success they will be happy, but I’ve found that when you do what makes you happy, you tend to work harder at helping other people because you enjoy it. And it naturally becomes much easier to be a success.

Of course, you can’t control how others will respond, but you can choose things that will allow you to give the best of yourself and bring you joy.

Has your year been all snakes and no ladders? If so, the author’s research suggests you may well be about to stumble upon success that has eluded the ladder-climbers.

Leave me a comment and let me know if your goals are based on what you think will make you happy, successful and profitable? Or on how you can use your talents to serve others?

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