The law of unintended consequences

Why, why, why is it that so often we generate exactly the opposite of what we want?

  1. Americans spend more on health than any other nation in the world, but they’re among the sickest (reference).
  2. Americans spend about $46 billion on diets, diet drugs, and associated programs … but they’re the fattest nation in the world (reference).
  3. Hockey players have never had better padding, helmets, and protection, but head injuries are on the rise (reference, reference).

Other examples are available at Wikipedia: prohibition in the US driving the growth of organized crime; the introduction of rabbits in Australia for “sport shooting” lead to them becoming ubiquitous pests …

Those are relatively straightforward examples, however. Trying to get accomplish X, in those cases, resulted in Y. Whereas in the first examples I mentioned, trying to accomplish not X, resulted in X. And not just X, more X. And even more X!


I think you can put it down to focusing on the wrong thing.

Being so focused on creating better equipment to protect the hockey player wearing the equipment, manufacturers armored us with hard molded plastic. Guess what happens when you hit someone in the head with hard molded plastic at 30 kph? Particularly when there’s 200 lbs of nasty rink rat behind it.

Being so focused on losing weight, people buy a million products, diets, pills, and programs … but forget that losing weight is not a goal but a byproduct – of healthy living, reasonable food intake, and regular exercise.

Being so focused on health, people buy a million … wait … I said that already. Ditto previous paragraph.

Sometimes the goal is not the goal.