When Ideas Go Bad

When Ideas Go Bad

Cobras, Cane Toads & Call Centres

I'm sure many of you, have sat listening to wild ideas in a presentation thinking

Where is this going?

Where did this idea come from?

What problem are we solving?

What is the value of this?

Innovation hugely benefits from wild & novel ideas from the extremes.

However qualifying and prototyping ideas is prudent as very unexpected and adverse impacts may occur.

Let’s check out some stories around making ideas happen, and different effects.

 Cobra Effect

"The cobra effect occurs when an attempted solution to a problem actually makes the problem worse. It becomes a case of unintended consequence."

During this time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. The government therefore 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 people 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.

 Rat Effect

A close second, is the rat effect.

The rat effect is where you keep your head, but your tail gets chopped off.

A similar scenario occurred in Hanoi, Vietnam, under French colonial rule. The colonial regime created a bounty program that paid a reward for each rat killed. To obtain the bounty, people would provide the severed rat tail. Colonial officials, however, began noticing rats in Hanoi with no tails. The Vietnamese rat catchers would capture rats, lop off their tails, and then release them back into the sewers so that they could procreate and produce more rats, thereby increasing the rat catchers' revenue.

 Cane Toad Effect

Near to home, we have another classic.

The cane toad effect is where the solution becomes a massive “head-ache”, worse than the original problem.

In the 1930 Queensland sugar cane farmer had problems with beetles. 

Hey Presto!  

This problem led to the introduction of South American Cane Toad as a means of pest control. Cane toads were to replace the use of pesticides like arsenic, pitch and copper.

Starting with 102 cane toads, they turned into millions of massive pests.

The cane toad, spread to massive parts of Australia where it has no predators or diseases to control their numbers, killing native animals and in the 1980’s, the arrival of cane toads in Kakadu National Park marked a decline in some native predators in the park, especially iconic northern quolls and large goannas.

 Call Centre Effect

The call centre effect is getting really hot under the collar, when your idea goes bad.

Now imagine, being in a remote community in central Australia, standing in a pay phone, in 35 degree heat, trying to talk to your local council about your services.

You would want a pretty slick service? Right!

It get’s really hot in one of those phone booths.

At one point, remote aboriginal communities had local councils.

Many of these councils were then consolidated into central Australian councils called “Super Shires”.



“Primarily, shires were intended to improve services and restore integrity to local government. It was believed that by replacing the 60 tiny community councils with eight super-shires, poor management and rorting would disappear and service delivery could match mainstream Australia. It was also felt that worthwhile jobs free of fiefdom influence would be created and restore faith in government.”

To make this, supposedly, even more efficient, the “super shires” decide to outsource services into an offshore contact centre.

 “The contentious council decisions, including one to hire a call centre in the south Indian city of Chennai to monitor shire services including garbage and rate collection and the supply of power and water.  The decision to create jobs in India rather than in the dirt-poor Central Desert where they are desperately needed has embarrassed and infuriated policymakers in Darwin and Canberra.”  Source

Now outsourcing can be very beneficial, but in this instance, lots of controversy, policy & communication problems turn this idea into a failure.

The 2011 headline was “Alarm sounds at dysfunction in the desert”.

At this point, the Federal and State Ministers stepped in to kill the deal.

We see many interesting effects when Ideas go bad.

Best to qualify your great ideas carefully.

Paul Wilson can help you act on your ideas, get concepts to market faster, engage customers and be more profitable.

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