Why are ‘unintended consequences’ almost inevitable?

We so often hear politicians, managers and those in positions of authority wailing about the ‘unintended consequences’ of their actions – or worse, excusing damaging outcomes with a shrug of the shoulders and saying “But they were unintended consequences …” as if that lets them ‘off the hook’ of their responsibilities.

But were these consequences in the real world really unintended? Maybe they were actually inevitable, even ‘normal’ given the actions taken. Could it be that if appropriate approaches and mindsets had been employed then the damaging consequences could have been avoided?

To which the answer is and emphatic “Yes!”.

If one is bringing about change in the real world, in the complex and largely unpredictable inter-connected world in which we live then it is no good merely following the ‘best practice’ taught on business administration courses. The real world cannot be treated as if it is a supermarket chain.

Instead, complexity thinking offers a clear set of principles that should be followed when intervening in wider policy, commercial, social, community, medical and environmental matters.

Avoiding those unintended consequences

I am sure you are now thinking “OK, if we can’t predict how can we see what the consequences will be?”. Good point! The answer is that, yes, we can’t predict specific instances ( x will happen in this place at 1256 on the 27th March to Fred Bloggs and Xioa Lui), but we can anticipate the future if we are forward-looking.

Indeed, complexity thinking can identify that certain classes of outcome are likely, even inevitable, if we go about a particular task in a certain way – or if we organise ourselves inappropriately.

[The rest of this post will give examples]

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This entry was posted in Appropriateness, Change, Contextual complexity, Experienced complexity, Influence, Natural complexity, Opportunities, Organisational forms, Practice, Prediction, Probability, Purposeful, Risk, Transformation, Transition, Unintended consequences. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why are ‘unintended consequences’ almost inevitable?

  1. Pingback: Applying Complexity Thinking to the Real World | Harnessing Dynamic Change

  2. Pingback: Complexity Demystified: A guide for practitioners | djmarsay

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