Unintended consequences example - Deepstash
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Unintended consequences example

Banning plastic bags in San Diego caused serious unintended consequences.

The deadly 2017 hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego is attributed to the lack of plastic bags. Homeless people used the bags to dispose of their own waste. But when the bags became hard to come by, the alternatives were much less sanitary.


2.45K reads


Barriers that prevent upstream thinking

  • Problem blindness. "This problem is inevitable." You can't fix a problem you can't see.
  • A lack of ownership. "It's not my problem to fix." People resist acting on a problem because they may feel it is not their place. When no one ow...


3.43K reads

Ghost victories

Measures can fool you in three ways:

  • “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Your measure shows that you're succeeding, but you mistakenly attribute your success to your own work.
  • Your short-term measures don't align with your long-term mission.
  • ...


2.9K reads

Example of problem blindness

In 2014, the C-section rate in Brazil was 57%, the highest in the world. In the country's private health system, 84% of children were delivered by C-section. The system was designed to prefer C-sections. After educating doctors and patients, the upstream solution caused a 40% increase in natural ...


3.25K reads

Upstream thinking in leadership

Organisations have a tendency for downstream thinking. To succeed, leaders should change the focus to upstream thinking.

  • Identify problems early
  • Target leverage points in complex systems
  • Find reliable methods to measure success
  • Consider new ways...


2.85K reads

Upstream thinking

Downstream actions are reactions to problems. These efforts are fast and tangible.

Upstream actions attempt to prevent those problems from happening in the first place by systematically reducing the harm caused by those problems. These efforts are slower an...


5.42K reads

Examples of upstream thinking

  • Expedia: 58% of customers who booked travel on Expedia placed a call afterwards for a copy of their itinerary. No one was responsible for ensuring that customers didn't need to call for support. It was identified as an upstream problem. Once changes were in place, the need f...


4.33K reads


When you spend years responding to problems, you can sometimes overlook the fact that you could be preventing them.



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Find reliable ways to measure success

  • “Rising tides” test. What else might explain the short-term success other than our efforts?
  • Misalignment test. How can we find misalignment as early as possible? What alternative measures could provide potential replacements?
  • Lazy bur...


2.18K reads

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