We’re back to the workweek. Every week day, adults make about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions. We often overlook the fact that our decisions can have unintended consequences. My letter today answers the question of ‘unintended consequences.’
Let’s begin with a story. In 1890, a man named Eugene Schieffelin teamed up with the American Acclimatization Society to release approximately 100 starlings in New York’s Central Park. Today, there are 200 million starlings in the United States. Starlings are not native to the United States. Most of them, if not all, descend from Schieffelin’s original 100 birds. These starlings threatened the local ecosystem. Eugene Schieffelin’s simple act led to long-term ‘unintended consequences.’ Large flocks of these birds destroy crops and snatch food from the native birds. Each year, starlings consume millions of dollars worth of crops and cause fatal airplane crashes. Sadly, too often we put ourselves at risk of making the same mistake.
Our actions often have unintended consequences because we are biased to solve immediate problems. The cognitive biases narrow our vision. In our mind, we tend to envision and emulate the solution for immediate problems but fail to address the underlying issues. The invisible problems eventually reveal themselves in giant form. We have recently seen the severity of 2020’s California wildfires. Several forest fires have been quickly extinguished by the US Forest Service in the past decade. Indirectly, this efficiency was responsible for the California wildfires of 2020. A large amount of deadwood remained unburned for years due to the rapid fire suppression effort, accumulating wood fuel in forests over time. While the US Forest Service succeeded in putting out most forest fires, wood fuel buildups were largely ignored.
In most cases, unintended consequences are just unanticipated outcomes. It is often wiser to take the time to analyze the root cause of the problem in order to minimize potential future problems. Impulsive reactions often result in more harm than good. When conducting a root cause analysis (RCA), it is important to consider the worst-case scenario. Additionally, it is important to make a decision in a way that can be undone if necessary. Raising a child usually has significant financial consequences. In contrast, many people spend more time planning to buy a car than having a child.
Each day, we make a variety of decisions. The decisions we make are sure to have consequences. However, the severity of these consequences depends on how we make decisions. A smart decision requires agility. Plan, implement, and adapt in cycles. The uncomfortable truth is: not making a decision at all is also a decision, with consequences.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful week!
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