Each minute of our life is a lesson but most of us fail to read it. I thought I would just add my daily lessons & the lessons that I learned by seeing the people around here. So it may be useful for you and as memories for me.
Nearly all of us have heard the term “unintended consequences,” but we may not be aware of how to avoid them. In February 2018, in the publication The Library of Economics and Liberty, Robert Norton wrote, “The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people — and especially of government — always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.”
When we try to make a single change within a complex system, we often end up causing unintended consequences. These can be positive or negative. If we don’t anticipate unintended consequences, we can’t expect to achieve our desired outcomes.
When the unintended consequence of a decision is favorable, there is never an issue. The favorable outcome is considered a bonus. When the unintended consequence is adverse, depending on its impact, the decision-making process is questioned, as is the leader who made the decision.
Sometimes unintended consequences are catastrophic, sometimes beneficial. Occasionally their impacts are imperceptible, at other times colossal. Large events frequently have a number of unintended consequences, but even small events can trigger them. There are numerous instances of purposeful deeds completely backfiring, causing the exact opposite of what was intended.
Many entrepreneurs and executives face unexpected negative consequences after experiencing initial success, such as anxiety over being able to maintain their “winning streak”, fearing that they are being set up to fail, and experiencing the envy others feel towards their accomplishments.
If you ask yourself “What could go wrong with this?” before you launch a new business idea, you can head off some potential problems and increase the chances of a successful launch. But you also need to ask yourself about the possible unintended consequences of success. What if you fix one problem only to create several others?
And you know, the bigger the challenge, the more important it is to check and double-check, to look at what can go wrong and look at what can’t go wrong. And think those through so that you can be a little bit more prepared for a transition that you may have in your own business
For the first time in my life, I learned about “Murphy’s Law” in graduate school. It basically says that “what can go wrong, will go wrong.” Although this law feels very pessimistic, there is value to it. It gives a framework for people to look for the flaws in their thinking. When one does that effectively, it’s easier to address potential issues before they arise.
This leads me to “Misner’s Corollary: Sometimes, what can’t go wrong, will go wrong!” Here’s what I mean by that. When I have introduced something new into my business, I have often thought about what could go wrong with this new approach or idea. If you do that in advance, you truly help to head off challenges. However, what I’ve learned over the years is that you also need to think of what “can’t go wrong.”
I know this sounds crazy and even more pessimistic however if you go about this in a thought-provoking manner — you can truly think through potential challenges before you proceed. In particular, you want to consider, what I call, the “unintended consequences of a seemingly good idea.” This tends to happen when you have a solution to a problem and almost everyone agrees that the solution will definitely help with the problem. You think about how you will roll it out and avoid those things that could go wrong with that rollout and its implementation. You then roll out the idea and all goes well. What we tend to forget, however, is the unintended consequences of that new idea. In other words, the roll-out goes great but then you create a whole new set of problems that never existed and were never considered when dealing with the original problem.
The lesson learnt here — is that when you have a good idea, think about what can go wrong with that idea. If at all possible, test your ideas in advance on a small group of actual customers. They will help point out the things you didn’t think were possible or didn’t think were problems. Then, spend time thinking about what “can’t go wrong.” This means you need to really think outside the box to consider the potential unintended consequences. Most importantly — test the idea in some limited way to identify the things you thought couldn’t go wrong. Believe me when I say, you still might discover unintended consequences. The experimental testing phase is critical to avoid Misner’s Corollary.
Most unintended consequences are just unanticipated consequences. And in the world of consequences intentions often don’t matter. Intentions, after all, only apply to positive anticipated consequences. Only in rare circumstances would someone intend to cause negative consequences.
So when we make decisions we must ask what the consequences be? This is where having a toolbox of mental models becomes helpful.
What unintended consequences have you experienced from successful business initiatives? Share your experiences and your solutions in the comments.
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