I’m fascinated by the Law of Unintended Consequences. History is littered with examples; Wrigley was originally a maker of baking powder which started to include little bits of chewing gum to sell their product when people started buying pre-baked bread. Lego was a wooden toy company until a warehouse fire left it just the new plastic bricks to sell.

But there is usually unexpected negative impact from change. When the British governor of Delhi responded to a cobra infestation by putting a lucrative bounty on them, he got more, not fewer, snakes as breeding programmes started all over his city. When the US imposed quotas to protect its steel industry from cheap imports it cut US car makers access to cheap steel, making their cars more expensive than foreign imports.

This is a particular issue for technology. New tech always comes with two things; promise and unintended consequences and examples abound. Look down a train carriage and see everyone on their mobile; the slow death of printed media; books, newspapers and magazines… Another consequence of mobiles has been rocketing divorce rates; a combination of phone-addicts screen snubbing (phubbing) their partners and mobiles both enabling and evidencing infidelity… Social media was intend to bring us all together however just a few minutes on it will show how it’s tearing society apart; the global sharing of ideas and debate also enabling cyberbullying and trolls…The convenience and benefit of industry, commerce and government moving online also unintentionally opened the door to cyber-attack and espionage… More worrying is the potential for unintended consequences in AI – particularly its military application.

Development will not stop however the wider ramifications of change must be considered and unintended consequences avoided. Business technology has in the past focused too heavily on individual solutions; hardware / applications that serve a specific purpose.. Hardware choices are not just productivity and cost; they are also about longevity scalability and environmental impact. Data gathering and management is not just about storage and analytics; it is also about privacy and transparency. Investors must recognise this, focussing on companies which offer a holistic solutions. Examples are D4t4 offers a complete solution for data management; gathering, storage and analysis. Quixant offers not just a computing platform but a complementary ecosystem of software and accessories. Pelatro has expanded from a single campaign management tool to offer a complete serviced contextual marketing hub. Most interestingly, Sopheon did an audit of how its clients were using its Enterprise Innovation Management software, Accolade, and discovered it is being deployed for much wider purposes than the original product portfolio and lifecycle management purpose – instead mapping and measuring strategic change and execution – encouraging focus on Accolade’s deployment as the third pillar of enterprise, alongside ERP and CRM.

Unintended consequences arise because of the chaotic nature of systems. As John Muir, one of the earliest environmentalists, so beautifully put it; “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”. The way to avoid a negative impact of this sneaky law is to shift to a broader system mind-set; with obligation to consider the full extent of implementation to avoid unintended effects.

Happy Friday