The Art of Decision Making
How to avoid “The Cobra Effect.”
It is not the decision that is important but the consequence of the decision.
Throughout my career, I encouraged leaders and would-be leaders to consider the consequences for every decision they make. From the mundane of “what will happen to my health if I eat another kilo of chocolate” to life changing decisions such as “should I sack this employee?”
I once sat with an under manager who had made some decisions leading to issues I had to resolve. He told me quite correctly that all of his decisions were the right decisions. But those same “correct” decisions had knock on effects which impacted on the business and involved substantial amounts of my time getting things sorted.
He just didn’t get it.
The reality is that there are usually half a dozen “right” decisions to every question. The challenge for a leader is to choose the right decision with best outcomes and this is the basis of good risk management.
A misplaced word, incorrect emphasis, ambiguous tweet can end in time consuming and often expensive crisis management.
Getting it right is not always easy and mistakes will happen.
Irish cut price airline Ryanair is being pounded 24/7 for cancelling flights citing pilots having to take holidays. Thousands of people have had travel arrangements disrupted leaving some stranded in foreign countries.
There had to be a better way of handling an internal issue before it became a damaging public issue.
By considering our decisions we can minimize negative consequences.
Other examples of correct decisions with disastrous consequences abound. We can all probably give examples from our own lives.
It’s not rocket science, just keep asking yourself and your advisers what is likely to happen if you take a particular decision.
In my home country of Australia, everyone knows about the introduction of the cane toad to help sugar farmers control the cane beetle. Now the toads are in plague proportions threatening native wildlife.
The decision seemed correct at the time -- the consequence, -- a disaster.
The term cobra effect stems from the time of British rule of India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. It offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially, this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased.
The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.
There are hundreds of examples on the internet. Go and have a trawl.
I advise managers to spend some time thinking things through, discuss them with their peers, decide on the best outcomes and then think a little more before making the decision.
As a senior communications adviser, I considered a primary role was risk management and consulted with the Executive on every major decision, announcement and communication and yet “Risk Management” rarely appears on job ads for Comms specialists.
In decision-making, as in physics Newton’s Third Law applies: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Never forget, it is the consequence not the decision that is important.