I don’t often chew gum on my way to work but then again I don’t often have a tuna & onion sandwich for breakfast so the latter necessitated the former. It’s about a 25 minute walk to the station so about half way through the journey I was on the look out for a bin to get rid of it.
It turns out that the bins in Chester have changed since the last time I chewed gum. Instead of an large, open-topped round bin, they have changed to a enclosed, letterbox style. This meant instead of a cool, flick to the side, “don’t look back because I’m smooth like that” disposal. I was forced to stop walking, dribble the gum into my hand and then attempt to flick it into the bin without it sticking to my fingers. The people of Chester obviously aren’t as responsible as myself because surrounding the bin were an incredible amount of flattened pieces of chewing gum.
The new style covered bins were likely put in place for their benefits. It stops the litter blowing away and makes the rubbish harder to see. The downside is that it makes it harder to dispose of gum, causing people not to bother and therefore ruining the pavement. An unintended consequence.
Once on the train I started searching for other examples of these unintended consequences and came across “The Cobra Effect.” The anecdote goes that during British colonial rule Delhi had a large cobra population. As cobras are extremely venomous this obviously caused a problem for the government at the time. In order address the issue, they decided to start a bounty system, offering cash for every dead cobra handed in. Large numbers of dead cobras were submitted and it looked like the system was a success. However, the number of cobras in Delhi didn’t seem to be reducing.
Unknown to the government, enterprising citizens had started creating “cobra farms”, breeding cobras specifically to kill and claim the bounty for. The government got wind of this and quickly cancelled the scheme. Not being able to collect a bounty on their many cobras, the farmers released them back into the wild. The solution to the cobra problem actually increased the number of cobras in Delhi!
In Change, it’s easy to think about the benefits and drawbacks that you intend. It’s expertise, effort and discipline that helps you discover the unintended consequences and stops you releasing cobras.