We have all been there. A problem arises and a quick and easy fix appears to be the answer. Only later we find what appeared to be quick and easy turned out to be long and hard or even totally inappropriate. These situations are often referred to as unintended consequences. We see the results everywhere - in our personal lives, in our day-to-day business activities, and with some of the laws passed by our well-intentioned government officials. Of course, hindsight always perfectly shows the error in our ways. But we keep falling into this trap anyway.
Instead of using the term “unintended consequences”, the more appropriate term is probably “unforeseen consequences”. In most cases, the impacts could have been foreseen if we had slowed down a bit and thought about Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion that says, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. When contemplating a solution to a problem, it is easy to apply this law. Just ask “what could go wrong or how could, not should, others interpret our actions?”. With the goal of solving the problem, it is easy to think only of the positive benefits of the solution and quickly implement it in order to move on to other activities.
Another equally dangerous trap is to implement an interim solution knowing its limitations but assuming that there will be time and resources available to fix the underlying problem properly later. Unfortunately, with the constant influx of new challenges, quite often “later” never comes. The commonly used description of this situation is the placement of a band-aid on top of a band-aid to stop the bleeding which, of course, simply masks the problem for a while.
Not only is it helpful to think about the reaction to the proposed problem fix, asking others, who are directly involved, can also provide insight into the pros and cons of the solution. In fact, this is a cornerstone of many quality programs. It involves getting others involved. In many cases, management is presented with a problem and develops a solution that they think is the best approach and instructs others to carry it out. Instead of telling others, a better approach is to ask others, especially the individuals that first uncovered the issue, what they think should be done. Their insight may change your entire perspective about the problem and the solution.
When a quick and easy solution comes along, stop for a moment and ask yourself if it is too quick and too easy, and then ask what are we missing?