OPINION: Sometimes the optimum tactic is diversionary

I am one of those people who, when faced with being stuck in a traffic jam or driving 100 miles further just to keep moving, does the latter.

It gets me there, avoids frustration and gives me more time to think.

Not surprisingly I sometimes encounter the unexpected. Take the day I encountered flood water cutting off the road to Guide Dogs, and had to navigate round the lanes to get there. I ended up driving through a trading estate where I saw, unexpectedly, the new offices for a company whose managing director had been a friend at university. Although we had kept in touch, I had not realised that his premises were just down the road from mine.

I called him; we met and had an intriguing time finding out about our respective organisations. They had a lot in common: both employed local people, operated a call centre and were developing corporate social responsibility strategies. The dialogue led to some interesting cross-sector working - an unintended outcome just from avoiding a flood.

Reading the FT the other week, I learned of a wonderful word which describes such a happening - obliquity. John Kay's article, 'Forget how the crow flies' explained: "if you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in the other. Paradoxical as it sounds, goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. So the most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented, and the happiest people are not those who make happiness their main aim".

Obliquity is a concept that fits well within the increasingly complex societies in which we now live. It describes how we interact with a world that is imperfect and constantly changing, and, in trying to create order, we need to recognise that we also contribute to constant change. Applied to the not-for-profit sector, the concept of obliquity offers a useful insight. Those who survive best are those who can adapt and work in fluid, changing structures and partnerships, and rise to the challenge of identifying and meeting user needs, rather than going hell for leather for the grand plan.

Don't get me wrong; it doesn't mean no vision or strategy, but they need to be located in a developmental, flexible approach which aims for the greater good of all. Therein lies the secret of success. Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

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