Tag Archives: automobile crisis

10-10-10 and the Law of Unintended Consequences 

Last Friday at our June First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented the synopsis of the book 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch.  It is one of the few books I have read that just seems to pop up in conversation after conversation.  The book states very simply that whenever we need to make a decision, we need to ask:  what are the implications of this decision in the next 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years.  She argues that many (most!) people don’t actually have any process they follow to make decisions.  They simply go with their gut instinct, or they just “do” without “deciding, and then doing.”  Here’s her sentence:  “We decide by not deciding or by letting our gut instinct guide us…  And we hope for the best.”  It is a powerful, simple reminder.  And it is espeically helpful in reminding us that we really do not think through the significance and possible consequences of our many decisions.

Well, I have not been able to get the book out of my mind.  And one aspect is especially captivating – we are not very good at thinking through the long-term impacts and implications of our decisions.  Read the news, and you learn this in a hurry.  What our Congress passes, about financial regulations, about mortgage guidelines, about investor protections — these all have serious long-term consequences.

Recently, I was reading one of the many articles attempting to explain just what put our auto companies in the mess they are in.  Here is one interesting theory — in 1962, after we got mad at unfair tariffs imposed on chicken exports, we imposed a 25% tariff on all truck imports.  This led our auto makers to spend years (actually, decades) making the best trucks in the world — because they had a practical monopoly on trucks (remember, all of those ubiquitous SUV’s are trucks), and thus they put their best researchers and their best innovators into trucks, not cars.  By the time the gas prices and the financial collapse finally hit, we were literally way behind the curve on car innovation, and leading in an area that can no longer be as profitable economically (trucks).  So, a seemingly logical and understandable decision in one year had serious, maybe catastrophic unintended consequences over the long haul.  (You can read the article, The chickens have come home to roosthere).

This is just one example.  We all could provide many more.  This question helps in so many ways.  Should I finish (should I have finished) my:  degree, graduate degree, project…?  Should I do this, do that, go here, go there?

What does this short-term decison today do in the long-term?  What will the consequences be in 10 years?  This is the question we need to learn to ask — and keep asking.