Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
– F. Scott Fizgerald, The Great Gatsby

I once read somewhere that we gain a pound of weight a year after the age of 20 (at least in the United States). And what, according to the study, was the single biggest contributor to the weight gain? 

Potato Chips.

Potato Chips were the single biggest factor associated with weight gain. There were other different eating and lethargic practices listed. You can find them on this link: http://archive.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/06/27/long_term_weight_gain_how_does_it_happen/

I’m not sure how good the study was (you can validate on your own). I’m not writing about health today, but about a topic I shared with a young businessman earlier, which is the Impact of Unintended Consequences.

An unintended consequence is a result that has materialized, good and bad, that was not the originally intended. For example, I doubt anyone intends to become fat. But through unchecked calorie consumption that comes from an intention to feed our hunger, enjoy a good meal with friends, or satisfy a craving, all neutral or even good things, we end up with the unintended consequence of becoming overweight. No one is intending to be poison their body with chemicals and gain weight when snacking on the inanimate potato chip, but it’s contributing, and contributing largely to a very undesirable consequence. No one intends to wake up drowning in debt. But because of other intentions, again, neutral or even good intentions, we purchase too much, we give too much, we don’t save enough, we don’t negotiate enough, we don’t excel enough, and then we find ourselves facing issues we never wanted, such as lack, foreclosure, and debt. 

In my conversation with the young man, I gave a fictitious example of a luxury hotel management team. In the mission, they are told they want to be “top of the top!”, but during a recent management meeting, the boss screams at everyone, “Your teams are all so magastos!” (“Your teams all so costly!”) Maybe he’s saying this in a moment of frustration, maybe he really wants them to cut costs, but it’s possible that HR hears that and starts cutting staff, including maintenance staff, Purchasing hears that and starts buying cheaper materials, Facilities hears that and starts enacting rotating power outages, and Marketing hears that and stops coming up with more value to offer. Before you know it, the once luxury hotel is a badly run and badly maintained organizations, offering a diminished value proposition to its customers, yet with a management team feeling very good about how well they’re managing – because they’ve been able to follow a directive (which may not even been a directive in the first place). I told him, “Bosses don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Let’s make my team’s life a living hell.’ While I’m sure there are truly evil people out there, most of the ills of the world are caused by people like you and me triggering unintended consequences.”

I can easily turn this into a business post, about how management needs to go back to being purpose-driven, principles-led, and performance-oriented NOT compliance run, not HR run, nor finance run, nor communications run, nor legal run, but mission-centered. I can talk about the growing evidence that many of the failed organizations collapsed due to “good managers” implementing “good management” in a new rules world. But instead I want to focus on ourselves, on our own unintended consequences, moving away from policing other people, moving away from the latest rant on Facebook, the latest injustice to be worked-up on, the latest video to be upset about, and truly reflect on this question: What are the consequences of my life?

What are the unintended consequences of how I shop? What are the unintended consequences of how I do the grocery? Of how I talk to my teams? Of how I talk to partners? Of how I spend my money? Of how I wake-up? Of when I sleep? Of how I pray? Of how I write? 

What ripples are caused from my seemingly harmless decisions. A cold sweat just broke through me. I can think of many areas I need to alter for the sake of Elijah. I can think of many “potato chips” 

Many months ago, someone asked me my thoughts on the “cat issue” in BGC, about whether I thought people should be allowed to feed cats in Highstreet, particularly the walkway beside Shangri-La. Characteristically, I answered her question with other questions:

Me: Are animal lives important?

Her: Of course!

Me: I agree. Now, is the concept of Private Property important? Meaning, if you own something, it is up to you what you choose to keep or not keep in your premises?

Her (sensing where she thought I was going): This is different. This is about valuing animal right. Animals have as much right as us? Who will defend their rights. (Notice, she never actually answered my question.)

Me: Wait, just answer yes or no. Does Private Property matter? I already agreed with you that animal lives matter. Is it important that, let’s say in your home, your own private property, no one can just, let’s say, raise pigs there, without your consent?”

Her: Of course it’s important! Why would I let anyone raise pigs in my house without my consent?

Me: Because you’re selectively applying the principle of private property. You want it to apply if it benefits you but you don’t want it to apply if it goes against something you want. If someone decided to raise all these cats in your living room, would you say it’s the right thing to do?

Her: But this is different…

Me: This is the problem with un-principled emotional reactions. First, it creates a double-standard. It isn’t based on a principle but our feeling about the principle. Second, without that principle, we will never be able to agree objectively, so it creates division. Third, while the emotional mob moves on to the next issue of the week, the unintended effects of rallying for a cause we don’t really understand linger. This is true for cats, for politicians, and for other issues. And we will always say that the current emotional issue is different. We will always say, it’s more important. But how important is it if just weeks later we’ve already forgotten it? And what about the effects on Private Property? What about the effects on how people interpret that principle? What about the effect of encouraging people that mob rule wins? We have no idea on the damage these snowballs we’re rolling, started by our good intentions, resulting in avalanches of unintended consequences.

Her: Silence.

Me: Let me offer a bridge. It doesn’t have to be a Cats vs. Private Property issue. Both can be satisfied. How about this? Let’s start a “cat fund” specifically for this area. That fund will pay for the responsible care, research, and potential liabilities of having cats here. If anyone gets scratched or gets sick, the hospital bills and court costs can from from that. I’m sure the owners won’t mind having this win-win proposal. How much would you, personally, contribute to that cat fund? How about starting with P250 a month? That’s like two cups of coffee. Sacrifice two cups of coffee to give these cats that you love so much a home, and in a way that satisfies the private property principle, because you gave the owners a beneficial alternative. I’ll contribute myself. I also value animals AND private property.

Her: Why should I pay for it?

Me: I didn’t tell you to pay for all of it. But what you’re asking is for the owners to pay for your ideals. You want them to use their private property for your ideals, and you won’t even give two cups of coffee worth. Wouldn’t your energies and rallying be better used in drumming up support for such a fund?

Her: I still don’t understand why I should pay for it. I’m not doing anything wrong.

To make a long conversation short, there’s still no cat fund.

I wonder about the unintended consequences of overflowing idealism with incredible entitlement. I wonder about the unintended consequences of expecting holiness without allowing sanctification. I wonder about the unintended consequences of watering down personal responsibility in the name of kindness. I wonder about the unintended consequences of not teaching our kids to work hard and suffer because we don’t want them to struggle like we did. I think about the unintended consequences of finding biblical basis for blatantly unbiblical leadership in the name of honoring authority. I think about the unintended consequences of a highly popular yet highly ridiculous “happy wife = happy life” teaching. I think of the unintended consequences of wanting a better world, a better government, a better morality, a better society, a better family, a better life, yet being clueless at the cost of making these a reality. I think about unintended consequences of churches and non profits who feel entitled to donations, to volunteer commitment, simply because they have good intentions – even if they’re incredibly wasteful. I think about unintended consequences of businesses who feel entitled to profits, as long as they’re “legal” without giving thought to the environment or to the effect of their marketing. 

I think about the unintended consequences, and I think about the beloved high priests of these false gospels, and I think about the foolish people who listen with their hearts and don’t know how to filter with their minds. I think about these things…

… And I shudder.

I shudder because I can see the avalanche coming. I shudder because our current leaders won’t admit it. I shudder because I know I’m guilty myself.

#DB

About the Author

David Bonifacio Husband, Father, CEO of Bridge, Managing Director of New Leaf Ventures. #DB

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