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The Cobra Effect

https://nesslabs.com/cobra-effect

nesslabs.com

The Cobra Effect
The world is much more complex than we realise. The Cobra Effect is when an attempted solution results in unintended consequences.

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The Cobra Effect

The Cobra Effect

Most of us have a simple, cause-to-effect relationship with our surroundings and the events that unfold in our lives. We try to solve problems using a linear-thinking model, resulting in inconstant consequences. This is known as The Cobra Effect.

Linear thinking assumes that there will be no unpredictable side-effects and nothing unusual or unexpected will happen, which may or may not be the case.

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Origin of The Cobra Effect

Origin of The Cobra Effect

The term ‘Cobra Effect’ originates from Colonial India, which was under the rule of the Britishers. To tackle the problem of the growing number of cobras, the British government announced a bounty on every dead cobra. Enterprising locals started breeding cobras and kept on claiming the bounty reward. When the Britishers realized this and stopped the reward, the snakes were set free, increasing the population in the city.

This anecdote revealed that a linear, logical solution could also make the problem worse.

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Understanding Dynamic Systems

A dynamic system has two types of feedback loops:

  • Positive Feedback: This feedback loop keeps the coveted effect in progress.
  • Balancing Feedback: Also called negative feedback, this loop keeps the system in a balanced state.

Instead of assuming that a dynamic system is a chain of linear events, we need to step back and look at the big picture and try to understand the complex feedback interactions.

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Applying Mental Models

It is impossible to accurately predict all potentialities in any proposed decision, as the amount of information we have is almost always inadequate.

Mental Models are cognitive constructs in our brain, which like an algorithm, can help us minimize any unwanted consequences while making a choice.

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Second-Level Thinking

Second-level thinking is a form of mental model that makes us map out the complex implications of the various decisions under consideration.

This helps us take into account the limitations of our minds and separate the signal from the noise.

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You need some detachment and perspective. Remind yourself that winning an argument or proving your point really gets you nowhere in the long run.

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Systems thinking

Is a way of seeing the world as a series of interconnected and interdependent systems rather than lots of independent parts. 

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Systems

...are sets of related components that work together in a particular environment to perform whatever functions are required to achieve the system's objective.

The 3 main systems at play

  • Social systems: rules and structures, created by humans, that keep society functioning.
  • Industrial systems: all manufactured material world, created to facilitate human needs.
  • The ecosystem: which provides all the natural services (clean air, food, fresh water, minerals and natural resources) needed for the other two systems to exist.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

There are many situations and disastrous circumstances where impulsive and emotional solutions are applied, which apparently solve the problem but unintentionally create new problems or collateral ...

Decision Making And The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Our worst decisions are only later known to us as being terrible ones. When we make those decisions, we think of them as good ones

We take shortcuts and solve problems in a quick-fix, rapid-relief method. We don’t consider any long-term effects or where the dominos will fall based on our choices.

Reasons We Suffer From The Law Of Unintended Consequences

  1. We play it safe and do not want to take the time and investigate the root cause of a problem.
  2. Our many cognitive biases act like blind spots, making us only see immediate threats.
  3. We focus on something visual and available (like what’s on TV) and worry about those problems instead of focusing on the real but invisible problems which may be more lethal.
  4. Our decisions have certain compounding effects that are not visible for years, yet when the entire time period and the corresponding events are accounted for, the stupidity of the solution is revealed.