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Are you Creating Collateral Damage?

The TV Comedy Show “The Good Place”, had a plot twist where the characters discovered the no one had gotten into heaven in a really long time. At first, they thought the devil had hacked the algorithm, but then they found out that in a complex world, good deeds had so many negative effects that no one could be good anymore. They give the example of buying a tomato. It picked using underpaid labor, there is a big carbon footprint of transporting the tomato, and finally, the use of pesticides.

Consider the invention of antibiotics. Antibiotics save lives! But they have also created superbugs that we now can’t overcome.

How many times have you done something at work that you thought was good, only to find out that it caused an unintended problem? In a complex world, when we do something good, it often has an unintended effect of causing something bad.

You’re gonna piss someone off. Have you ever gathered a group of people to solve a sticky problem, come up with a great solution, only to face a bunch of sourpusses from the people who weren’t invited? You’re in a bind because if you had invited them you likely wouldn’t have solved the problem because there were too many people there and sourpusses aren’t great problem solvers anyway. But by not inviting them you’ve made it harder to enroll them in the idea.

Your idea is a cannibal. You have a great idea that your customers will really love, the problem is that it cannibalizes the company’s other products or business for key partners. This happened with the first electric cars; the gas stations would revolt! Modern companies claim to welcome self-cannibalization over the threat of outside, but I have yet to see it happen.

Process improvement work is like whack-a-mole. Process improvements that take a slice of a problem, rather than look broadly and holistically, often end up simply shifting the deficiency to a different area. Consider the company that cuts cost by automating call center responses. They found an increase greater than the amount saved through an increase angry and lost customers. They spend money on customer apology credits and time spent with irate customers.

Brain Twist: In a meeting today, try drawing a mind-map of all things connected to the work you are doing. What is the collateral damage?

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