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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to avoid Really Dumb Decisions (aka The Cobra Effect)

Have you ever attempted to solve a problem but the solution you came up with actually made things worse?  There is a name for this; the Cobra Effect.  I learned of the Cobra Effect a couple of weeks ago while leafing through an officers handbook on leadership.  Apparently the concept originated in colonial India when the British Government offered a reward for every dead Cobra in an effort to reduce the number of the deadly snakes.

While successful at first, Indians began to breed them for profit and when this was realized, the rewards were cancelled. Without a profit, breeders released the snakes and what was intended as a solution became more of a problem.
You see, by offering a reward for dead snakes, the government hoped to eliminate the problem. At first, the officials thought the program was a success due to the large number of dead cobras, however, officials quickly realized that the locals were breeding the snakes and selling them to the British government. The reward ceased, and then the locals -who no longer needed their cobra farms- released their snakes right back into the city. Hence the Cobra Effect was coined and is used whenever a supposed solution makes the problem worse.

I think the Cobra Effect is a fancy title for something else: making Really Dumb Decisions (R.D.D.). Albert Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them." I tend to believe the guy that came up with the theory of relativity. So the question becomes, "How can you and I avoid being bit by the deadly Cobra?"

The answer, I believe can be found in Dr. Henry Cloud's book titled, "9 Things a Leader must Do."  He calls it, "Playing the Whole Movie.  I'll illustrate the principle by a story.
"An middle aged man sat down on a park bench to read the newspaper. Within a few minutes, a young man sat next to him and started reading a magazine.  Time goes by and the young man asks, "Do you have the time?"  "No." 
Puzzled by the response the young man says, "Sir I see that you have a watch, why won't you tell me the time?" The man replies, "When you first sat down I noticed you are clean cut and you seemed well mannered.  I also knew that if I gave you the time, we would probably start talking and I would take a liking to you. Then I would probably invite you over to my house for dinner and there you would meet my daughter and she would feel the same way about you.  You two would likely become friends and then go out on a date, then fall in love and get married.  AND I'LL HANG MYSELF IF I'M GOING TO LET MY DAUGHTER MARRY ANY MAN WHO DOES NOT OWN A WATCH!"

The concept of "Playing the whole movie" is this:
You must evaluate your decisions in the present, based on how those decisions affect the future.  I know so many people that take action without considering any future implications and that is exactly what the British did when they foolishly tried to outlaw the Cobra.  Jesus said, "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?"  (Is it just me, or is Jesus spot on ... on EVERYTHING.)  And just to make you all feel better, I am not asking you to become omniscient, I am merely suggesting it prudent to take a bit more time thinking about how your present decision(s) will impact your future.

What about you? How do you avoid making harmful decisions?
Can you share any other ideas that will help others in their decision making process?

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