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Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars How decision making works and doesn’t work., 30 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Paperback)
We live in a world where increasingly we believe that technology will answer our problems, and even our prayers. With sufficient effort, money and computing power, we can find the solution to any problem, and where we don’t it’s simply that we applied Insufficient effort, money and computing power and must try harder next time. The result is an unstoppable flow of instant solutions each attempting to address the problems created by its predecessor.

In this well-written and thoughtful book John Kay sets out why, in the real world, direct solutions are seldom the ones that work and how real change is approached not directly, but obliquely.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first Kay cites instances of oblique decision making in all aspects of our everyday lives. Section two explains why this is the case and how direct approaches are simply not possible. In section three he sets out guidance on how obliquity can be applied effectively.

This book is not against the application of scientific methods, nor an advocate for decision making based on intuition. Rather it recognises the true nature of the interconnected world and the impossibility of calculating the consequences of our actions in advance of those actions being made. It offers a well-reasoned argument for an alternative that will feel familiar to us in our everyday lives, but is rare in decision making elsewhere.

The following paragraphs from the book illustrate the approach:-

“In business, in politics and in our personal lives we do not solve problems directly. The objectives we manage are multiple, incommensurable and partly incompatible. The consequences of what we do depend on responses, both natural and human, that we cannot predict. The systems we try to manage are too complex for us to fully understand. We never have the information about the problem, or the future we face, that we might wish for.”

“But the idea that moral algebra is really the right way to make decisions, even if we eventually fail to use it, is deeply ingrained. So we tell ourselves that we are really using moral algebra when our real decision making process is oblique – we play Franklin’s Gambit. Franklin’s Gambit is perhaps the most common fault in decision making. – and particularly in public decision making – today. There is an appearance of describing objectives, evaluating options, reviewing evidence. But it is a sham. The objectives are dictated by the conclusions, the options presented so as to make the favoured course look attractive, the data selected to favour the desired result. Real alternatives are not assessed rigorously: policy-based evidence supplants evidence-based policy.”

This is a thought provoking book that I recommend to anyone trying to make sense of how decision making works or more often doesn’t work.
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