There have been lots of examples lately of unintended consequences. Two that stand out for me are the recent economic collapse and battlefield injuries that soldiers are surviving due to better armor. Both have their roots in good ideas and intentions, but both have resulted in high costs both for the country and for the people directly involved.

Unintended consequences can derail an otherwise great idea. While you can’t always avoid them, you can minimize them. Here are three little things you do to vet that great idea for unintended consequences:

  1. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Consider the perspective of everyone that will be impacted by your decision or action. How would you feel if you were in their situation? What will your idea do to or for them?
  2. Act like a prairie dog: get out of the weeds and look toward the horizon. Get input from others–customers, suppliers, colleagues, friends and family. Who else has addressed a similar challenge? What have they done? What unintended consequences did they face?
  3. Act like a really annoying two-year-old and keep asking “why” when trying to resolve an issue. (This is a root cause analysis technique called the “Five Whys”.) The idea is to keep asking why the problem is happening until you get to the root cause of the problem. Solve the root cause–or a piece of it–and you’ve solved at least part of the problem.

You may not be able to foresee every unintended consequence, but by giving it some forethought, you’ll likely reduce the chance of them happening.