The Law of Unintended Consequences

A meeting yesterday made me think about The Law of Unintended Consequences. I first heard of that phrase from Ed, Kepha’s CFO.

It is the idea that you do something, but downstream, the decision creates surprises, which can be good or bad.

Here are two examples:

Fundraising for Kepha 1. This surprise was one of upside.

I was flying around the country alone to try and raise the first fund. One day, I got an awesome call from someone. She had been an executive assistant at my prior place of employment and had switched VC firms. “Jo,” she said excitedly, “you’re gonna love this. I was working the reception desk and one of our LPs walked in for a meeting. He suddenly realized that we overlapped and so asked me about you. I told him that you rocked!”

That LP did end up investing in Kepha.

I received calls like this from other executive assistants (and, from junior analysts) with whom I worked at various prior jobs. I was shocked at how much due diligence LPs did on me. As someone who has been on the bottom rung at many jobs, I tried as I got “more senior” to treat well all work colleagues.  I never expected it would pay off in the future. But, I am glad it did. A great unintended consequence.

The impact of business success on relationships. Now, here is a downside example. First, I yesterday connected with a female executive. She shared that she was having drinks with a very successful and suddenly prominent male executive to talk about her new business idea. Out of nowhere, this married man tried to kiss her. A year later, his wife divorced him. The rumor mill claims that his wife discovered he was having an affair.

I personally have noticed that when someone hits it really big, more often than not, how that person treats other people can change radically. Who knows why, but my partner Eric said he noticed the same dynamic when he worked at Siebel Systems. After the company went public, a lot of marriages hit the skids.

So, those are my thoughts on The Law of Unintended Consequences. You always have to “be prepared” for upside and downside and just roll with any punches and celebrate the wins. Be ready for surprises.

It is one reason why I continue to work hard on being less of a control freak. As my exec. coach says: “Control is a complete illusion.”

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