Damn The Unintended Consequences! Full Speed Ahead!

Are unintended consequences always the result of poor – or no – risk analysis? Of course not! Unintended consequences result from every action we take, no matter how careful or thorough we think we are. Not all unintended consequences are bad, either (look at Post-Its and Rogaine!). Sadly, we rarely consider the possibility of adverse effects or, when we do, we usually downplay them.


DDT was designed to control the spread of malaria and other diseases carried by mosquitos. Unfortunately, it became a significant factor in the near-extinction of bald eagles and posed a serious threat to humans and was banned. (Audubon Society)

We are not perfect creatures. We are not all-seeing or all-knowing (though more than a few of us have persuaded ourselves that we are or we eventually will be). Regardless of how pure our motives or how strong our ethics, we do not always act in a purely utilitarian fashion.

The plans we make – when we make them – are always based on limited information, a limited amount of time in which to process the information, and limited funds. Those plans are also often founded on such human frailties as hubris, stubbornness, and selfishness.

It is certain that taking action without giving any consideration to probabilities and potential impacts of reasonable threats – and some that are not so reasonable – significantly reduces the likelihood of intended consequences (expected results) and increases the probability of those damned unintended consequences. You can’t prevent all unintended consequences but you may be able to reduce the chances that something you missed will bite you in your nether region at some indeterminate time.

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
(Yogi Berra)

In short, plan for failure. Accept that not everything will go according to plan. Make plans, for sure, but always ask “What if?” Ask yourself, “What could possibly go wrong if I do ‘X’?” Then, ask trusted advisors and a good cross-section of stakeholders the same question.

Once you’ve identified risks (threats), employ common tools of the trade, like FMEA, to prioritize those risks. Determine the most appropriate way to manage the high-priority risks, and incorporate your risk management plan into your overall business plan.

And don’t neglect those plans! Review all your plans periodically.

* * * * * * * * *

Wondering where the greatest risks to your business lie? Let’s talk about it.


We help small businesses improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Whether you're selling a product or a service, we'll show you how you can improve product and service quality, effectively and affordably. If you need quality, environmental, or health & safety management but can't afford a full-time manager or staff, call on Q9C and we'll pick up the slack. For information or a quote, call or write. Subscribe to the Q9C blog while you're at it.

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Posted in ISO 9001:2015, risk assessment, Risk Management, Risk-based thinking

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