May cause wheezing.

It’s fall, and that means huffing and puffing.

Last year, our son’s asthma landed him in the hospital over Labor Day. This time around, we were prepared. At the first wheeze, we broke out the inhalers. And then we sat back and waited for the show to begin. Because if there’s anything more fun than the Terrible Twos, it’s the Terrible Twos on steroids. Literally.

It’s amazing what a couple puffs on an inhaler can do to energize a two-year-old. Of course, all that running and jumping and bouncing off the walls just made the wheezing that much worse. Thankfully, things settled down eventually. No doctors, no urgent care, no ER, no inpatient stay. Phew.

But that “wheezing -> medicine -> hyperactivity -> more wheezing” process got me thinking about cross-purposes and unintended consequences. And it reminded me of a story.

I had lunch a few weeks ago with a corporate researcher for a national retail chain. He told me about a recent meeting, a high-level review of store performance to analyze recent declines in same-store sales. One bit of good news came from the facilities side, which reported almost six figures in savings across all locations.

Those savings aside, the declines warranted concern. So the corporate office reached out to the front lines – the store managers – to try to find an explanation. Here’s what they heard back: can we please turn our thermostats back down?


So we have a savings-minded facilities department doing their job well. They institute a policy to reduce cooling costs in the stores – just a tad, mind you – but it adds up to major savings. Oh yeah, and it’s just enough to make customers the tiniest bit less comfortable while they’re shopping, so they stay a few minutes less and spend a few dollars less. That adds up too.

It’s a good reminder that we all need to look for unintended consequences. Things like…

  • Captcha and TrueTwit, those validation measures you put in place to get rid of spam comments, but that end up discouraging real-life interactions as well.
  • The sick leave policy you put in place to keep a single problem employee from abusing the system, irritating most of your good employees in the process.
  • The Groupon you offered to increase your customer base, only to end up losing money on a bunch of cheapskates who will leave you for the next $5 off coupon.
  • The insecticide debacle that led to cats being parachuted into Borneo. Yes, really.

Of course, it’s easy to figure out unintended consequences after the fact. And that’s the whole point.

No one expects you to be psychic, and it doesn’t pay to second-guess yourself into paralysis. But you owe it to yourself to review your strategy and your decisions to better understand all the consequences, good and bad, intended and unintended.

Remember: hindsight is only 20/20 if you bother to look.

*Photo credit AAAAI

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