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24 January 2011 | Aidan Lawes Blog
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Unintended Consequences, Bleeding Obvious, Viewpoints and Deja vu
This week Aidan looks at how we are prone to repeating mistakes of the past over and over again...

  Aidan Lawes

The recent news has tickled my fancy because it highlights so many of the dichotomies that riddle our society.

New regulations to ban bribes for gaining business contracts have been crafted so widely that they catch even the most trivial form of payment that could be perceived as an inducement and place a huge compliance burden upon businesses operating in parts of the world where varying forms of minor baksheesh are absolutely normal for oiling the wheels of (particularly) the simplest government activity. Apart from seriously hampering export activities at a crucial time for the UK economy, an unintended consequence of the wording means that any act that is deemed to breach it, will also breach the Money Laundering laws – and we all know how banks and other organizations have interpreted the strictures of this to make it almost impossible to achieve the simplest transaction without 47 forms of identification.

There was another story about how easyJet’s revenues from ancillary services were down and had contributed to a loss. Apparently, once they started charging for putting a bag in the hold, we all started avoiding the charge by taking our bag into the cabin! What a surprise!

Yesterday’s paper carried 3 stories: one about the high and increasing rate of unemployment among the 18-24 age group, another about the government’s plans to remove the default retirement age of 65 (at which companies could get rid of workers without fear of legal action) and a third bemoaning how hard it was for those in their 50s and 60s to get work. Of course, it is tragic that people are unable to find work at any age. But if several different groups are finding it difficult, it is clear that trying to intervene too strongly for one group is just as likely to disadvantage another as it is to benefit them. Leaving aside the thorny issue of how much some of these people really want to work and how qualified they actually are for certain roles, it is clear that almost all legislation tends to have an unintended consequence.

Taken in conjunction with the recent extension of parental rights for maternity/paternity leave, the removal of the default retirement age is another negative factor for potential employers. One person’s benefit is another’s loss.

Today’s news contained an item about a school that tried to introduce the subject of the Second World War to their pupils by playing newsreels of London burning in the Blitz, sound effects and herding them into cupboards. Not surprisingly, some of the youngsters were unable to distinguish what was happening from reality and were in tears. My immediate reaction was, “hadn’t they heard of the original broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and the pandemonium caused in the US where large swathes of the population believed the Martians really were invading”? [No, I wasn’t around at the time!]

What’s the point of all this rambling?

Well I guess it is just that we humans do seem to be prone to repeating the mistakes of the past over and over again; that there are usually consequences for every action that we take, which we rarely seem to notice until it’s too late; that whether a particular action is “good” or “bad” depends on where you are sitting; but sometimes, some people will see something as being so bleeding obvious that they can’t understand why the rest of the world can’t.

All these principles can be applied to our area of interest. How many times do enterprises grasp hold of the latest technology, tool, framework, approach, etc, in the desperate hope that “it” is going to solve all their problems, despite all the evidence of failure from the last panacea?

Off-shoring a call centre to India may well save money, but many users find that the level of service diminishes. Initiating self-help systems may equally save money in the IT department, but some of those costs are transferred to the user community (and rarely accounted for). Rigorous processes may enforce standardization of approach, but over-bureaucratic ones can stifle innovation and business performance. Multi-guess exams are great for the exam provider (cheap), but not necessarily good value for the consumer.

I guess that after all the centuries of human endeavour; we are unlikely to ever solve these issues. And just because it gives grumpy old men something to mumble into their beer about, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pay a bit more attention to decision-making. Think through the consequences, not just for your tribe but for others, before embarking upon any course of action. 

P.S. I notice that publication of the new edition of ITIL has slipped and is now slated for “the second half of 2011” – so nothing new there either!

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!! 


24th January 2011

Hi Aidan

Thanks for your usual great blog. I was interested to see you putting forward the date of second half of 2011 for the ITIL update as the so called official website and also OGC and APMG didn’t appear able to inform me when I asked them. So there doesn’t seem to be a clear message for the marketplace and I wondered if your source was better than mine? I do think the marketplace does need to have access to up to date and reliable information with equal access so look forward to your reply with interest.
Annelise Savill  


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