Build a Portfolio Career

Building a Portfolio Career

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Law of Unintended Consequences - LUC

My previous post was about decision making and the gulf between those who make decisions and those who are impacted by the decisions. One of the main reasons that decisions can have unexpected results is that LUC is ignored. LUC is The Law of Unintended Consequences and almost always affects decisions, usually for the worse.

Here are some examples:

  • I live in The New Forest, which is famous for the ponies that roam free in the forest. There are many horse owners who live in the forest and who keep their animals in pony paddocks or stable yards, usually 2 or 3 fields. The forest recently became a National Park and new rules were proposed which were not well thought through. One of these was that ‘every horse must have at least one hectare (2.4 acres) of land to graze’. This was to prevent over crowding. So pony owners would have to have at least 4.8 acres to keep two ponies. Any horse owner will tell you that the amount of grass which would grow in one hectare during the summer would far exceed what the horse could eat - in fact, given that amount of grass, the horse would almost certainly go down with laminitis and possibly die. So the National Park’s decision to avoid overcrowding in pony paddocks would have had the (LUC) effect of killing off the very horses that were trying to encourage. Thanks to a local ‘uprising’ the policy was never implemented.
  • Aid is given to developing countries from western governments. This may or may not be effective. An example might be the provision of fishing nets for local people to allow them to catch fish. Very worthwhile, you may think. But this action puts the local supplier of fishing nets out of business and perhaps he moves away. What happens when the new fishing nets need to be mended or replaced? There is nobody to do it. LUC has played it’s part and the locals have gone from having some old fishing nets, to plenty of new fishing nets, to no fishing nets at all.
  • The welfare state was introduced to help people out of poverty. The founders little realised that LUC would ensure that millions of people now take welfare as an alternative to work.

These are all negative examples. There are positive examples too.

  • The Chilean miners that were trapped underground for nearly two months were rescued by drilling a rescue shaft. Whilst drilling this shaft, LUC came into play and previously unknown deposits of gold and silver were discovered. These may even cover the cost of the rescue, which was funded by the Chilean government.

So when you make decisions, don’t ignore LUC. It’s impossible to second guess every angle but don’t assume that things will work out the way that you always expect them to!
Rob Horlock has established The Mid Life Opportunity (, a community for people in Midlife. Advice and Guidance is available from The Mid Life Coaching Panel. It’s free to join - click here


  1. To frequently, folks don't do enough "homework" on matters before they make choices. Government is famous for it. Checking all factors can help eliminate many of the negative LUC.

    However, there are so many factors to consider when making a decision... and so many that we can't see at the time. One can often become immobilized by the fear of negative LUC. For me.. I do the best I can at the time with the knowledge I have... and then come what may.

  2. There's an old the greatest good for the greatest number. Sometimes this is a hard thing to do because some one might be unhappy or not benefit the most from your choices.

    For example, my mother is 90 years old and needs a lot of attention and care. This care is shared by several daughters. But one daughter has taken this care on almost as a crusade. She insists on being the major caretaker. She is trained in helping people get off of drugs but her time spent with mom keeps her from her work. But she has the idea that she is the only one that can give mom the care she needs. So what is the greatest good?

    I love the example of the welfare state as a LUC.

    I believe in giving people a hand up. But this plan has attracted those who want a hand out. There is no exchange. Taking something and giving nothing in return is criminal.

  3. This is a great post. The examples are good and make your point clear.

    As Kathryn pointed out, we do have to avoid analysis paralysis from trying to cover all of the bases though. Sometimes the LUC may be just the experiences we need in our life at that time.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I agree that you can never foresee everything. The danger for most of us, of course, is that some people never think about LUC because 'they know best'. We all know people like that, don't we? (and have experienced the fall out from some of their decisions).