Why greatness cannot be planned

the myth of the objective

141 pages

English language

Published Aug. 21, 2015

OCLC Number:

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4 stars (1 review)

Why does modern life revolve around objectives? From how science is funded, to improving how children are educated -- and nearly everything in-between -- our society has become obsessed with a seductive illusion: that greatness results from doggedly measuring improvement in the relentless pursuit of an ambitious goal. In [this book], Stanley and Lehman begin with a surprising scientific discovery in artificial intelligence that leads ultimately to the conclusion that the objective obsession has gone too far. They make the case that great achievement can't be bottled up into mechanical metrics; that innovation is not driven by narrowly focused heroic effort; and that we would be wiser (and the outcomes better) if instead we whole-heartedly embraced serendipitous discovery and playful creativity. Controversial at its heart, yet refreshingly provocative, this book challenges readers to consider life without a destination and discovery without a compass.

1 edition

Review of 'Why greatness cannot be planned' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

Read this on a friend's recommendation. The title is a bit clickbait-y, but the author is very careful to qualify his claims.

The main message is that, when faced with complicated problems, singlemindedly going after an objective can and will get you stuck in dead ends. He argues that since complicated problems don't have an obvious solution it's very likely that the next towards the solution is not actually directly closer to your objective. Makes sense to me - I think my main takeaway is to think about whether an objective makes sense in the individual situations I run into.

There are some pretty interesting thought experiments in here, and a fun new way to look at decision-making - while at some points I felt like this book dragged (the middle), it's very short and skimmable. Definitely worth a read.


  • Biology
  • Philosophy
  • Goal (Philosophy)
  • Artificial intelligence