Separating Intent and Unintended Effects

On March 7, 2010 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS), an interesting crash happened in the larger context of NASCAR.  Carl Edwards intentionally got into the side of Brad Kesolowski, causing Kesolowski to spin around, become airborne, and land on his side with momentum sending Kesolowski's car into the wall (video).  This was almost inverse of the Talledega spring race in 2009 where Edwards unintentionally came down on Kesoloski, spun around, became airborne, got hit by another car in the process, and hit the safety fence that separates the track from the stands(video).

The big difference between these two scenarios was intention.  Earlier in the race at AMS, Kesolowski got into the side of Edwards, causing Edwards a long repair and a poor finish.

NASCAR handed down a three-race probation to Edwards after parking him for the remainder of the race at AMS.  The debate as to whether that was the most appropriate disciplinary action have been swirling around NASCAR for weeks (and still is at the time of writing).

This post is not about whether NASCAR made the right or wrong decision, but rather how it relates to management.

You have to understand the history behind the wing.  If you've watched the videos above, you've seen two of three.  The other piece of history is at this video.  The scenario at AMS is the third time that a car has become airborne after being turned around.

The probation that Edwards faces (and no suspension or fine, mind you) was because Edward's intent was to mess up Kesolowski's 6th place finish with a spin to the infield.  Edwards didn't intend for the vehicle to flip, and the vehicle should not have flipped.  In fact, the severe crash was likely caused more by the wing on the back of the car (which has now been replaced with a spoiler), not by Edwards's intentionally spinning Kesolowski.

This is quite a conundrum for NASCAR.  They control the design of the car very strictly.  They also said that the drivers could use a little less restraint after feeling a lot of criticism over the 2009 season where they made rules that limited the drivers actions.  Drivers and teams are not allowed to make decisions as to whether they use the wing or not.  They have to use it.

The important thing here is, as a manager, make the decision looking at all pieces of information and all parts of history.  Look at what you've told your employees.  Look at what has happened in the past that your employees should have been aware of.  Look at what you would have done in that situation, particularly if you weren't a manager.  Discuss the issue with the employees involved.  Do not make rash decisions and do not let emotions be the only thing that guides your decisions.

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