The Unintended Benefit

I always knew there is something I call the “unintended benefit”, that is a consequence of how we engage certain problems in our daily living. It’s unintended because you never meant to get that benefit but you get it anyway just because you did something to an unrelated problem.

To be unintended, it has to be unforseened as well, and most usually the benefit will go unnoticed as well, until you finally realise it. That is why it’s quite hard for me to think of actual examples to tell. However, I manage to catch 2 of these situation just before the benefit is realised.

The first encounter occurred when I was on my way home one day. I walked through a bus stop from the side on one end and as I reached the other end of it, I spotted a pool of water in my way on the ground. At this point, I was faced with an obstacle which I had to overcome. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, and all I did was to instinctively side step around it and continue my travel. And as I did so, a drop of dirty-bus-stop-roof-top water dripped from above right into the pool. That was the “unintended benefit” of not getting wet from above.

This might be trivial at first, but if you think about it, there are more ways than just side stepping around the pool of water to overcome it. I could have tipped toe across, or I could jump over it or better still I could have ignored it and continue in a direct path. However, all of these could have got me wet from head down. It was unintended because I was instinctively trying to avoid getting my shoes wet, but I prevented my hair from getting wet as well.

Another example of this unintended benefit is to do with buses when negotiating a right turn at a cross road junction. Buses do not start from the right most lane because they are long and tend to require a large turning angle. They are also slower than cars turning into the same street. Hence to overcome the right turn, the bus has to steer itself to the left first, then right into the street safely. We can spot a couple of unintended benefits here. Firstly, smaller vehicals can do the right turn on the right most lanes at their normal speeds, not needing to wait for the slower bus and it’s also safer because the driver’s view is not obstructed by the bus. Secondly, buses here stop on the left most side of the lane at bus stops, hence by making the turn from the left, they end up on the correct lane that they would be stopping on.

I think this is very different from the notion of causual systems or the idea of a deterministic world. It is about how the circumstances are set up in a way that there might be a best method to solve your initial problem and then gaining the rest of the benefits that follows through.

If you can think of any other examples or if you have any thoughts on this, feel free to comment.