When problem solving it’s important to treat the cause and not the effect.
The Indian cobra is a highly venomous species that often lives close to urban areas.
During the British rule, the Government became concerned by the number of these deadly snakes roaming the streets of Delhi, so they devised a cunning plan to resolve the situation.
A fixed bounty was offered for each snake caught and killed.
Initially, this proposal worked a treat and the number of reptiles quickly began to fall.
Cue lots of patting on backs in the corridors of power.
But then something odd happened.
The number of bounties being paid out started to increase at a rapid pace. Alarmed at this turn around, the officials investigated.
They discovered that local entrepreneurs had taken to breeding cobras and killing them for the express purpose of collecting a payout.
Furious, the Government immediately canceled the program whereupon the disgruntled businessmen (who now found themselves with a large number of worthless snakes) released them all onto the streets.
With more cobras on the loose than ever before, the not so clever Brits had paid a handsome sum to make the original problem worse.
This is now known as the ‘Cobra Effect’ and is a wonderful illustration of the Law of Unintended Consequences. These types of situations occur because when presented with a problem we often jump to a solution.
This sometimes results in us treating the symptom not the cause, which can end up making the problem worse.
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If you enjoyed this story you might also enjoy the related posts ‘When incentives lead to bad behaviour’ and ‘Hot tin hat’.
Oh and for an excellent online course on problem solving check out ‘Think Like Sherlock: How to Solve Problems from a Scotland Yard Detective.’