So I just finished reading a truly fascinating book titled, Loonshots, by Safi Bahcall, which I highly recommend by the way, and that book coupled with a few recent experiences at school and in my personal life have got me thinking deeply about the law of unintended consequences. You hear people all the time saying things like, “wow, I didn’t see that coming”, or “you know, things never turn out the way you expect”, or “whoops, I didn’t really think about that”, and even after years of leading change initiatives in schools, and having to unpack plenty of decisions that didn’t turn out like I had planned throughout my life, I still get caught dealing with situations that I had no idea were coming my way…but don’t we all!
Bahcall tells a great story about when the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered by Bedouin shepherds in a desert cave near the Dead Sea in modern day Israel. The archaeologists offered to pay money to the shepherds for each new scrap of scroll that they found. Their idea and intention was solid and sound at first glance, but they didn’t anticipate the unintended consequence of the shepherds ripping up any full scrolls that they found into little tiny fragments to make more money…whoops. It’s a wonderful little reminder about the importance of thinking deeply and critically about the decisions that we make in schools or in life.
The beautiful and somewhat scary thing about life as we know it is that you really have no idea what is about to come your way. This realization, which I embraced years and years ago, has led me to a focused approach to living in the moment, and a carpe diem kind of mindset that grounds me in the here and now. That said, even though I gave up long ago trying to control the world around me, I have gotten much better at planning ahead, and trying to identify consequences that are in my blind spot. In schools, particularly when rolling out a change initiative, it’s absolutely imperative that you take the time to think about and identify any negative, unintended consequence that might derail or delay your desired outcome. You’ll never absolutely be able to predict how something may eventually play out, but by purposeful planning and strategic thinking, you can help mitigate any undesired or unintended result.
Reading this book was an important reminder for me to slow down, to use the people I trust as thought partners when making important decisions, and to purposely plan time in meetings for strategic and systems thinking exercises. I’m sharing this with you because unwanted surprises are never fun, and I just want to remind you all to pause, take some time to think about the “what ifs”, and to get differing perspectives when making a decision that will ultimately impact other people. Yes live your life in the present, and absolutely seize the day, but also know that it never hurts to plan ahead. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…The greatest thing that science teachers you is the law of unintended consequences- Ann Druyan
Inspiring Videos –
What Happened to Kid President?
TED Talk – Unintended Consequences
Related Articles –
The Law of Unintended Consequences