All of us work to bring about the consequences we intend. So why does it seem so often that we live in a world of unintended consequences?
In the current round of layoffs, for example, one intended consequence may have been to make room for the best and brightest young minds -- people fresh out of school with a predisposition toward high technology and the flexibility and boundless energy of youth.
(At least, this is what we hear about the intentions of leadership in a broad cross-section of industries undergoing downsizing, merger and restructuring.)
But then comes this nagging Law of Unintended Consequences -- in this case, the increased level of uncertainty among those same young people.
The result: It is causing them to question the viability of any longer-term future -- and to channel their energy and creativity in new directions.
In other words, the people the companies are making room for no longer want to be part of those companies.
Clearly, working for a large company no longer provides the surefire ticket to security and the realization of the American dream.
In many cases it will not even provide the nurturing place where a people can develop their talent, learn from experienced mentors and acquire advanced and expensive training.
How does one become the recipient and beneficiary of accumulated knowledge, for example, when there is no one over 50, secure in his/her own status, to learn from?
Instead it may offer high risk (masked as "challenge") in a corporate culture rife with uncertainty, stress and political infighting that arises from scarcity of resources.
A recent news item noted that the "best and brightest" graduating from the Harvard MBA program were not automatically taking corporate jobs on Wall Street. In fact nearly half turned down those opportunities in favor of going directly into small, high-risk startup companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
The reasoning was straightforward. To many of these people, the decades-long struggle up the corporate ladder was a losing proposition. There is no guarantee that they or the company will be around one or two decades down the road -- or that the rewards will justify the individual's effort and sacrifice.
"Why get bent into a pretzel adapting to a corporate culture," they ask, "learning how they do things there, when we can join a startup operation and create the culture to suit us?
"Sure the risks are high, but we no longer see them as being that much higher than traditional corporate America. In fact, we should expect to be involved in a failure or two. Today that is no stigma, but rather a badge of honor -- an earning of your spurs, so to speak.
"Why should I take on the burdens and moribund baggage of the existing corporate structure that seems ill-suited to compete in today's global economy?"
What is our response to this?
What is to be done to reverse this unintended consequence?
We are at a cusp in the history of corporate development.
We don't know if companies will grow through mergers until they get very large in size and few in number, or whether the key element becomes the project and the project is pursued by a coalition of dozens if not hundreds of individual small companies.
As companies get younger through attrition of experience we do not know if the resulting corporate culture will be defined by the past or transformed by the power of the next generation.
The answer makes a world of difference to you in the development of your career.
Do you join a large company and do everything you can to conform to or change the culture, contribute to the productivity and stay close to the political core of the company because you know that the world is one of "ins" and "outs?"
Will you expect to live in an environment in which you either are "in" a large company or you are "out" -- a world in which there is no life on the periphery?
Or do you join the rough and tumble world of small business, earn your spurs through a succession of trial-and-error failures and successes, learning the art and craft of the deal and, in the process, create a new corporate culture?
In one case you need to learn how to get things done through internal processes and the development of a powerful internal network. In the other case all transactions are external, and success requires the ability to work through a variety of cultures -- some very foreign -- and the development of a powerful, external, even global, network.
For most of us the question is one of discovering how we can ensure success for ourselves no matter which scenario of our industry becomes reality.
No matter which future unfolds, all of us need to acquire and sustain a high level of technical competence. We all need the courage to create, and we all need the ability to anticipate the future.
The next questions become what scenario do I want to see developed and what, if anything, can I do to make it happen for me?
What future do I choose?
What you do is based on what you are -- and on the motivations that drive you. The way you pursue a job, a task or project is governed by the internal pushers that govern your decision-making process.
We all must know what those motivations are -- especially if we are to act free, perhaps for the first time, from the imposed values of a corporation.
If any of us are to embark on our own course we must, at whatever age, be clear about ourselves.
We each have a core motivational result, our primary intended consequence. If we discover what it is, it will help us find our way in this emerging new world. Review these possibilities for yourself. Are you driven to:
- Acquire and possess?
- Be in charge/command/gain power and dominion?
- Fight and prevail?
- Develop and build?
- Excel and be the best?
- Exploit or achieve potential?
- Gain a response or influence behavior?
- Gain recognition or attention?
- Improve or make better?
- Make the team -- or make the grade?
- Meet needs and fulfill expectations?
- Create work and make things effective?
- Master or perfect?
- Organize or operate?
- Overcome and persevere?
- Pioneer or explore?
- Shape or influence?
The first step in developing strategies for success in a changing world is to pause long enough to listen to ourselves.
What you discover in your answers will tell you volumes about the culture in which you will thrive -- and the future you wish to create.
For more information about core motivations see Arthur Miller and Ralph Mattson's The Truth About You, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 1977.