My neighbor recently built a fence for his children’s safety and to keep the deer from eating their plants.
This morning as I walked by their yard, I saw a deer jump the fence and graze on their vegetation. So instead of providing a safe environment for children and keeping the deer away the fence did just the opposite as it now provides a safe environment for the deer as they enjoy dining on their plants.
This is a great example of unintended outcomes. We often design a process or structure leading to an anticipated set of outcomes only to find that outcomes conflicting with our expectations occur.
So what do we do when we encounter such a situation? Here is a set of questions I suggest will help us recover and learn from a conflicting circumstance.
- Was the designed flawed? (Was the fence high enough?)
- Do we need to collect more data to determine if this is one particular circumstance or a pattern? (Is there one “super” deer able to leap fences or can any deer jump that high?)
- Does the unintended outcome actually eliminate, conflict or enhance an intended outcome? (Is there any way the deer’s presence adds to children’s safety?)
- Do we need to engage additional experts to review our design and the unintended outcomes? (Did we consult the right people when we designed the fence to provide safety and discourage deer, including fence professionals, horticulturalists, safety experts and deer whispers?)
- What did we learn from this experience? (Should we have structured one solution to two problems or separate solutions to safety and discouraging deer?)
Unintended outcomes, while challenging, can be opportunities for reflection, learning and improving so next time we encounter a problem to solve perhaps the fence-jumping deer can help us to better design our solutions.