John Kay’s Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly

Have you ever noticed that your biggest opportunities and achievements don't usually come based on picking a goal and moving in a linear direction towards it?

My career has meandered in response to all sorts of unexpected opportunities that have fit my values and aspirations, but were not things that I could have anticipated. For instance, I am now working on a proposal for my third Guerrilla Marketing book with Guerrilla Marketing founder and father Jay Conrad Levinson. Jay has always been a hero of mine, and yet I never thought to set a goal of writing a book with him. Then, a year or so ago, a member of the Center for Executive Coaching connected me to him, and he was gracious enough to entertain the idea of writing a book together. One book became two, and now we are on a third.

Some coaches don't get this when they work with their clients. They set big goals, and follow the simplistic approach of breaking them down into smaller pieces, until a linear work plan exisits. Now, this might be an acceptable approach to a clearly defined project, like writing software, but it is not the way that most people get amazing results in their careers and lives.

Instead, as coaches, we need to help our clients identify their aspirations, and help them create an environment where different opportunities — all in line with their values and big-picture aspirations — come to them. We need to harness a bit of chaos and probability theories into our coaching. Yes, we still make sure our clients are accountable. However, we need to be more subtle and sophisticated than the limited coach who forces a linear framework on non-linear events.

John Kay's new book Obliquity supports this argument. He cites many examples of success that happened obliquely, from military successes, to Merck (the old regime that was focused on "medicine for the people…not for profits), Louis Pasteur, and Jack Welch at GE (who thought that maximizing shareholder value as a priority was a dumb idea, and yet GE's stock did very well under his leadership).

Give some thought to your coaching. Are you one of those simplistic coaches who has a client set a goal, break it down into tiny pieces, and move in a straight line to results? If so, you and your clients are either thinking too small and working on simple things, or you are not going about your coaching in a way that matches the way things really get done.

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