The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


“The Law of unintended consequences holds that almost all actions have at least one unintended consequence.  Unintended consequences are a common phenomenon, due to the complexity of the world and human nature.”

In spite of the best of intentions, there are often unintended consequences which detract from the original objective.  These unplanned outcomes are often surprising and may even lead to new problems.

Rob’s best friend, Al was experiencing financial difficulties after being laid off from his job.  Al asked Rob to borrow some money for a month or two until he could find employment.  Rob readily agreed to lend the money to Al.  Since Rob had known Al for many years, he didn’t think it was necessary to put anything in writing.  Rob had no doubt that Al would repay the loan. 

After several months, Al had not repaid the loan or made any payments to Rob.  Rob didn’t ask Al about the money because he felt uncomfortable doing so.  Al was uncomfortable seeing or speaking to Rob because he hadn’t gotten a job and couldn’t afford to repay the loan.

The unintended consequences of Rob’s attempting to help Al are that Al stopped having contact with Rob and Rob seemingly lost a good friend.

There are many unintended consequences with children.  A young child’s curiosity is peaked when he or she is told not to do something for their own safety.  As a result, children are more interested in engaging in forbidden activities than those which are permitted.

A parent who helps their adult child financially runs the risk of the child becoming economically dependent on them, less ambitious, or even resentful if the parent asks to be repaid.  Although the parent is only trying to help out, there is the risk of unintended consequences.

As another example, it’s fascinating to observe how many people touch the paint when a “wet paint” sign is posted, in order to verify if the paint is really wet.  The unintended consequence of the sign is having more people touch the paint than if no special attention was drawn to it.

On cars, anti-lock brakes are designed to reduce accidents by preventing a driver from losing control as a result of locking up the wheels.  However, after the introduction of anti-lock brakes, accidents actually increased because drivers were less cautious believing the anti-lock brakes would stop them in any conditions.

Some restaurants, in an attempt to fairly distribute tips among the wait staff, utilize tip pooling where each employee gets an equal share of the tips.  Although altruistic in its intent, this system results in their best employees earning fewer tips while the underperformers make more. 

The unintended consequences are that the best wait staff will leave for another restaurant where they are rewarded for their hard work while those who aren’t as ambitious remain since they are happy with the tip pooling arrangement.  The tip pooling establishment loses its best employees to the competition.

In your life, it’s important to be aware of any unintended consequences resulting from your actions.  In spite of your best intentions, there are situations where the outcomes are not what you expected.

Learn from your past experiences.  Try to anticipate possible scenarios resulting from your actions.  Remain flexible.  Adjust your behavior as needed in response to any unintended consequences that arise. 

Don’t become discouraged because of unintended consequences.  They are a normal part of life.  The pitfall is not recognizing them and making necessary changes. 

NOW AVAILABLE:  "Dare to Live Without Limits," the book.  Visit or your bookstore. Bryan is a management consultant, motivational speaker, author, and adjunct professor. E-mail Bryan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write him c/o this paper.  2013 Bryan Golden

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