April 4, 2013, by Malvika Johal

My guide to starting your own business – Part 2

Written by: R L (Bob) Hall (BSc, PhD; University Of Nottingham )
Owner & MD of Top & Jeffries Limited; Co-owner & Chairman of Fuel Additive Science Technologies Limited, Shropshire, UK

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Welcome to the second on my series, entitled “My guide to starting your own business” If you missed the first in the series it can be found here.

This is more than “what can go wrong, will go wrong!”, unintended consequences of our actions have a nasty habit of occurring when you least expect them.

When I was helping a US technology start-up company I learnt an invaluable lesson about fundamental flaws that can occur in my internal logical reasoning and critical thinking.  I made what I thought was a very carefully thought out presentation recommending an ingenious course of action based upon my assessment of a complex situation. One of the managers in the audience listened intently and patiently waited until I had finished. He then made a very pertinent statement with a knowing smile on his face that I will never forget: “As usual, Bob, an excellent analysis and impeccably logical suggestions. Unfortunately I have to point out that this time you are just plain wrong!”. After the laughter had died down (including mine) he made it clear what the problem was. It turned out that one of the minor assumptions I had made in my assessment was completely incorrect. Unfortunately, although initially appearing minor it just happened, through an unusual list of consequences, to have a large impact which I was unaware of that completely changed the whole situation.

As a  PhD we are so good at logic, we have to be careful that we keep more than half an eye on the seemingly peripheral issues and check our assumptions with external ‘wise people’. Staying in our own internal “logic bubble” can create problems. Furthermore, the inevitable “law of unintended consequences” can occasionally bite back!

It took me a long while to realise that the total amount of energy we can generate is finite. This fluctuates day to day depending upon how we are feeling, but as we grow older the total energy decreases and we notice it. At any age, however, we “use up” energy coping with things such as our jobs or family problems. This leaves a smaller amount of energy we have available to get on with doing our jobs such as growing a business.  We need to maximise this “available energy” by dealing with personal or family problems as well as being smart about how we “spend” this energy.

Some tasks drive us crazy, whereas others are really interesting. We are at work for a very long time, so it is important that we perform roles that are energy generating. With this in mind, chose jobs in a field which you find fascinating. Clock watching is a sure sign we are not stimulated, whereas “I cannot believe its 5pm already!” is a great place to be. Concentrate on selecting interesting fields rather than focusing on the higher paid roles across all fields. Choose jobs that are energy generating not necessarily higher paid. It will take some time, but we all tend to evolve to a natural equilibrium between abilities, energy generating levels, levels of income and lifestyle.

Understanding our personal strengths is actually much easier than it seems and there are a variety of different techniques available. I have found that Myers-Briggs has helped me understand my own personality traits (which have changed very little over the last 25 years) The alumni masterclasses run by the Alumni Relations team at the beginning of the year held a session on Myers- Briggs type indicator and they will share notes for those who are especially interested. Belbin (another recognised management theorist) describes what kind of role we prefer to operate in a team environment. It is worth investing the effort to understand your general tendencies so that the available energy is maximised.

For further information, helpful hints and tips please visit our website. The next in this blog series  will discuss ‘Passion’ and what is needed to succeed when setting up your own business.


Posted in Entrepreneurs