The Cobra Effect is a great example of unintended consequences that arise when solving a problem. We’ll highlight the Cobra Effect and other examples of unintended consequences both in articles and a video and mention two Six Sigma tools that can aid in surfacing potential unintended consequences before they occur.


The Cobra Effect and Unintended Consequences


We’ll start with the video as it does an excellent job of introducing the Cobra Effect from 1911 India and gives examples of other unintended consequences.

  • Rats in Hanoi
  • Incentives and Bonuses in Sales
  • Call Center Calls
  • 2008 Sub-prime Crisis

The video then goes on to discuss why unintended consequences occur and offers three ways of how to prevent them.

  • Diversity: Obtain Inputs from As Diverse a Group of People as Possible
  • Take the Stakeholders Into Account
  • Think in Terms of Complex Systems

The video concludes with how the original cobra effect could have been avoided using the three ways mentioned to avoid them.

You can watch the video from Free Science 365 at the following link.



Using Process Mapping to Identify Unintended  Consequences


In his blog post titled “The Process Improvement Catch 22: The Law of Unintended Consequences” author Terry Giles briefly discusses the use of process mapping in surfacing unintended consequences

You can read his blogpost here.


Unintended Consequences and Risky Thinking


In a comprehensive paper titled “Unintended Consequences and Risk(y) Thinking: The Shaping of Consequences and Responsibilities in Relation to Environmental Disasters” authors Rolf Lidskog and Daniel Sjödin discuss how the development of risk analysis and the adoption of risk language have substantial implications for how to understand and evaluate unintended consequences. They analyze a human-caused severe wildfire to illustrate and expand the understanding of unintended consequences.

They discuss the use of differentiation, recognizability, responsibility, and framing to improve the analysis of unintended consequences and use the wildfire disaster for illustration.

Copy and paste the following link into your browser to access the paper.


The Law of Unintended Consequences: Examples, Causes, and Mental Models


A blogpost titled “The Law of Unintended Consequences: Shakespeare, Cobra Breeding, and a Tower in Pisa” from the Farnam Street Blog lists several cases of unintended consequences and finishes with a discussion of the causes of unintended consequences and mental models for avoiding or minimizing unintended consequences.

You can access the blogpost here.


Using the Reverse Fishbone Diagram and Pilot Projects to Surface Potential Unintended Consequences


There are methods within the Lean Six Sigma toolbox that aid in surfacing potential unintended consequences before they occur. The Reverse Fishbone Diagram is one such tool as it is used to analyze the impacts of a change. We covered it in a previous blog post.

Running a pilot project in Lean Six Sigma project implementation is one way to determine potential unintended consequences before introducing the final project recommendations. In fact, consider using the Reverse Fishbone during the Pilot Project implementation in the Improve Phase of your Lean Six Sigma project in order to analyze the effects of your improvement solution(s).