As companies after company fail in the same industry, I wonder why some organizations continue to follow the same deadly path. In most cases, it starts with managers who do not think about the consequences of short term decisions over the long haul. Sadly, hasty decisions can impact not only the individual but others around them. Several famous individuals have been impacted by this reality.
For example, Vanessa Williams was one of these fallen Hollywood icons. In 1983, Williams became the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America. However, her immediate success was short-lived due to a scandal.
Consequently, Williams was forced to relinquish her title; she probably didn’t think her youthful deed would come back and wreck her dreams. Yet, the consequences not only damaged Williams but her family, friends, and millions of her fans. In this session, we will examine the impacts of unintended consequences.
Have you ever wondered why some people never consider the aftermath of their bad choices? Many people fail to understand the consequences of their decisions. Nobel Prize author Albert Camus once noted, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” Some people rationalize that an apology or a pitiful stare will erase all of the damages.
I hear it all the time: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen.” Instead of just chalking it up to immaturity or youthful ignorance, I just cannot make that case because we are often talking about adults, not children. These adults should know better, but they act without realizing the effect of their actions. In spite of all wise counsel, some people live to make poor decisions.
Fortunately, these circumstances can be traced back to a root cause. The Law of Unintended Consequences relate to any purposeful action that will generate unintended consequences. This law can be categorized into several areas: (a) a positive unexpected benefit called serendipity, (b) a negative effect which is contrary to the original intention, and (c) a potential source of problems which is commonly referred to as Murphy’s Law. Additionally, the outcomes are not limited to the results that were originally intended.
Here are some examples of how this law works. A new bridge is built to give a secluded community access to a nearby shopping mall. However, this action results in increased crime in the secluded neighborhood and decreased sales for the mall stores. No one anticipated these unforeseen problems.
Another example is a caring parent who smokes cigarettes around his family. One child gets asthma and eventually becomes a chain smoker as an adult. Another child obtains a phobia related to smokers. In retrospect, the caring parent would have done something different if he had anticipated the long-term consequences.
Likewise, many managers may make alternative decisions if they understand the Law of Unintended Consequences. Furthermore, today’s leaders can be proactive in their decision making by considering the long term ramifications of most decisions.
Like Murphy’s Law, some decisions may appear to afflict some people as if their lives are cursed. Unfortunately, making the right decision is a difficult process. No one will applaud your many good decisions; however, you will probably catch heat over the bad ones. As a matter of fact, some individuals continue to ride a merry ride of worsening consequences.
Yet, it is often their own lack of foresight that haunts them. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Somehow we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.” Every person, regardless of their background or social standing, can benefit from good decision-making techniques. In this life, most people make decisions to the best of their abilities. When various things happen, especially bad ones, individuals must be ready to deal with them. Therefore, understanding unintended consequences can assist in helping make better decisions for the future.
How do organizations anticipate the consequences of their decisions? Can managers learn to make better decisions?
© 2010 by Daryl D. Green