I’m quickly approaching the one year mark since starting at Optimum in my first job since graduating. As I near this landmark, it has got me thinking about the how I came about getting this role as well as the things I have learnt so far at Optimum. One big lesson I’ve learnt, which also ties in with how I got this job, is how every action and decision made can have a plethora of both intended and unintended consequences.

Quite often people will make a decision – myself included – thinking about the direct outcome and not the butterfly effect that can and does occur. Understandably, it is impossible to think of all contingencies, but whether they are thought about or not, unintended consequences will occur. It made me think of all the little decisions and actions that occurred for me to be in this job, as well as the countless people that have been impacted within the last 9 months of me working here.

The Global Perspective

These unintended consequences aren’t limited to a workplace as they do occur on a large scale as well. China’s ‘One Child Policy’ is a perfect example of how a planned decision to alleviate a number of social, economic and environmental issues, led to a multitude of effects that will impact society for generations.

The first and most noticeable unintended consequence of the ‘One Child Policy’, is how the policy has expedited the speed of the ageing population. Prior to the policy, for every one retiree, there were 12 citizens, whereas now, this has halved to six citizens, and by 2050 there will only be two citizens per every retiree. The UN estimates that within the next 30 years, only 48% of the population will be of working age. This potentially means that the demands of society that are not working, will be greater than those who are working.

One of the lesser known impacts of the policy, is the current gender disparity in those born after the policy. Prior to the policy, the was an even gender proportion between males and females, as is the same in most countries. However, there are now six males for every five females under the age of 35. This effect was predominantly due to families having greater number of self-selective abortions as there was a preference to having male children. An unintended consequence of this is that due to this disparity between males and females, there are fewer potential women for males to find as partners. As of 2010, there was 40 million more males than women. From here we can hypothesise about what unintended consequences can occur due to a larger number of single men. It could mean that more men would join the military which would lead to a higher Chinese military presence. It could mean more immigration from Chinese males, which may expand China’s global influence.

This shows how one decision, albeit large, can have an array of consequences that are not thought of.

My Perspective

It is interesting reflecting on how certain choices and decisions have led me being in the current position I’m in today. I asked one of my colleagues what stood out in my resume for him to call me (admittedly, being a prior Sandwich Artist doesn’t have a set ring to it). His response was the work experience I did through The University of Queensland as part of the HRorizons Program and having the opportunity to work with Deloitte. This one section on my resume got me a phone call, which lead to an interview and eventually a job offer. I remember almost not applying for the HRorizons as I felt swamped with uni work at the time. I’m very thankful that I did!

Being in the position I am in now, I am very grateful that I have been able to help a lot of people find the next step in their career as well as assisting companies across a range of HR solutions. I’m also oblivious to all the unintended consequences that those actions have had on those people as well as the people around them but I’m sure there are many.

Small personal interactions can also reap an array of unintended consequences. One morning last week, I was feeling pretty flat coming in to work. During our daily morning meeting one of my colleagues decided, for no apparent reason, to put on his best impression of the Queen. By the end of the meeting, my jaw was sore from laughing, I had forgotten about my own issues, I was focused for the day and was able to achieve some of my goals by the end of the day. This shows how just small actions can have large and positive impacts.

We make thousands of decisions daily and can often fall into the trap of being transactional. Being mindful to the bigger picture and trying to think of some of the unintended consequences of our decisions is a great way to become more aware of our actions and increase our empathy by considering the greater impact of our actions.

I’d love to hear about some of the unintended consequences that have happened to you, and the next time you make a big decision keep in mind the wider picture.

Daniel Cosgrove – Consultant

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