In my neighborhood — and probably yours too — there are new signs springing up everywhere. They feature a man bending over behind a dog under these words: “Pet waste transmits disease. Bag waste and clean up after your dog.” Apparently there’s an epidemic of dogs pooping on people’s yards lately because these signs are showing up wherever I look. And so are the legions of obedient dog owners who walk around with plastic bags — both empty and full — hanging out of their pockets.
At first glance the signs seem to make sense. After all, who wants dog poop in their yards? Poop smells, it’s unsightly, and it smushes sickenly between your toes if you’re unlucky enough to step in it with bare feet when you run out to get the newspaper in the morning.
But wait just a damn second! Isn’t poop also used as fertilizer? And don’t many of the same people who go to The Home Depot to buy these anti-poop signs for their yards also leave the store with 20 lb. bags of cow manure to feed their lawns? Maybe they should be thanking the pet owners for helping keep their yards green and beautiful instead of lecturing them.
Instead, these same home owners demand the dog lovers scoop up the offending materials and isolate them in securely knotted baggies. This effectively destroys any value the dog droppings offer because after a short stay in the oxygen-free environment of the plastic bag the healthy organisms in the poop die and the fertilizer factor is finished. At that point the bagful truly isn’t worth a shit.
Unintended consequences, indeed.
I’m at a marketing workshop at a fancy hotel and I’m in line to grab a cup of coffee and a croissant before the boredom begins. Placed alongside the gleaming silver coffee urns are stacks of cups – both ceramic mugs and paper cups with plastic lids.
I don’t know about you, but I think coffee tastes better in porcelain than paper. In my mind (and on my tongue) the coffee stays hotter and doesn’t pick up any bitter taste from the cardboard. Plus, the mug is easier to hold, sits better on a table, and is easier to balance when I’m also holding a briefcase and trying to shake hands.
So why do people take the paper cups? Is it because they’re used to them from their daily Starbucks habit? Do they think the paper cups hold more? Do they simply not think of the difference and just grab whatever’s there? Or is there some other reason they prefer paper?
While I question why people would choose paper over porcelain, there’s no question why the hotels prefer paper. Despite their obvious ecological unfriendliness, paper cups are easier to handle and dispose of than ceramic mugs. They’re lighter, less expensive, can be stored in much smaller spaces, and don’t require washing, drying or restocking. Plus, paper cups don’t break. Based on this, it behooves hoteliers to save money by providing paper cups for coffee drinkers who either prefer them or don’t know the difference.
Again, an unintended consequence. But unlike the wasted fertilizer, this time the unintended consequence pays dividends to the savvy hotelier.
The importance of these two examples is to illustrate the phenomenon that while things happen that no one expects or plans for — Brexit, Uber, Zika, Donald Trump, skinny jeans – and while their consequences may in fact be unintended, they can present great opportunities to people who pay attention.
All you need to do is observe your own reaction to what’s going on. When you see something you don’t understand and you exclaim, “WTF??!!” understand that those initials do not stand for “What The F@#k??!!” but instead mean “Where’s The Future??!!” Because each time your intuition tells you that something odd is going on, it’s also telling you there could be unintended consequences in the making. That could mean that there’s a potential opportunity brewing too. It’s up to you to find it.
The 18th century British Nobleman Baron Rothschild said, “Buy when there’s blood in the streets, even if the blood is your own.” Rothschild, who made a fortune buying everything in sight in the panic that followed Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, understood exactly where the future was going to be. Maybe after reading this blog, you will too.
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Unintended consequences, indeed.