Monday, 23 May 2011

No should ever deny or ignore the law of unintended consequences , because to do so would be the height of folly. Akin to Murphy's Law, it shatters the naive belief that humans can fully control the world around them.
For bridge club committees who are obliged on occasions to make difficult and important decisions , the law might well come into operation producing negative, unexpected, highly detrimental outcomes from a decision that had only positive results in mind. This perverse effect ( contrary to what was originally intended ) often stems from a well meaning solution, which then only makes the problem worse.
So why does this law blight bridge clubs more than any other social club or voluntary organisation ? The relevant paradox it seems comes down to the type of people who sit on such committees. These decision makers think they know their areas of ignorance about an issue, and go and obtain the necessary information to fill that ignorance, but neglect certain other areas of ignorance, because, by not having the information , its relevance fails to be obvious........and so the perfect scenario is created by which the law can come into being.
Indeed, Robert K. Martin listed 5 possible causes of unanticipated consequences :
1. Ignorance : it is impossible to anticipate everything, thereby leading to incomplete analysis
2. Error : incorrect analysis of the problem, or following habits that worked well in the past but may not apply to the current situation
3. Immediate interest : often this overrides long term interests
4. Basic values : these are responsible fo leading them away from the one and only decision, which could have brought about sought after positive outcome
5. Self-inflicting prophecy : the fear of a particular consequence compels people to take a decision which they hope will avoid it, only to discover it becomes the very reason why the undesired consequence came into being
So let's look at this law in action . A well meaning bridge committee sets about in a crusading way to rid the club of a troublesome member, in a gallant attempt to improve the image of the club as being extremely social and friendly. A place where members can come along and enjoy their bridge without fear of any unpleasant incidents. However, the questionable decision to expel this member, to the joy and relief of many, created an unforeseen schism within the club. With others feeling an injustice had been done, their annoyance and anger caused the atmosphere in the club to become both unhealthy and destructive.
It has always been my contention that there is never a perfect solution to a difficult problem. Whatever solution is chosen that in itself creates another problem, which on occasions can be far worse. If say two solutions each bring about a negative consequence, then we duty bound to choose the one which is the lesser of the two evils. Unfortunately, because it is impossible to foresee the negative outcomes of every decision , it means that all decision makers are, on occasions, at the mercy of the law of unintended consequences.

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