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It is particularly sad for me that James Black, the Nobel prize winning chemist, should have died in the same week that my latest book, Obliquity, is published. I am indebted to Black for helping to frame the idea – and for proposing the term “obliquity” to describe it.
Successful decision-making is more limited in aspiration, more modest in its beliefs about its knowledge of the world, more responsive to the reactions of others, more sensitive to the complexity of the systems with which it engages. Complex goals are generally best achieved obliquely.
Obliquity recognises that there are no predictable connections between intentions and outcomes. Problem solvers cannot evaluate all available alternatives: they make successive choices from a narrow range of options.