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The Law of Unintended Consequences

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Foreign aid is good, right? Especially when people are starving. Common sense.

Well, not so much. For many years, the US policy was to distribute massive amounts of food to hungry people in countries which gladly accepted it. However, in so doing we ruined local agriculture. People were receiving food for free, no sense in buying it from struggling farmers, so the farmers stopped farming and received their share of free food.

What we had done was to undermine and destroy local agriculture, meaning we had to provide free food forever. We didn’t set out to do that, but we should have know the consequences of free food, and worked to build a more effective farming industry, Was it realistic to have foreseen this? Well, the oldest bromide in the world is “give people a fish or teach them to fish,” right?

When I first began coaching, I’d gladly do the work for someone (“Let me create the report format” or “I’ll give you the opening to your book”). But then, not so strangely, I found people asking me the same questions repeatedly, and I thought they were slow learners, But they were actually pretty sharp learners—Why do the work themselves when I was perfectly happy to do it for them?

Today I tell clients, “Show me an example of how you would approach this and let me critique it.” But I won’t critique successive blog posts or videos or podcasts. Once I explain the process of how to improve, it’s up to the client to implement continuous improvement.

And the ultimate goal, of course, isn’t just to teach people how to fish, but how to harvest and nurture generations of fish.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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