The Cobra Is A Venomous Snake!

While The Vulture Is A Patient Bird, The Cobra Is A Dangerous Snake

So, I came across the term, Cobra Effect , for the first time, recently.

Abridged from the Wikipedia,

The Cobra Effect occurs when an attempted solution to a problem makes the problem worse, as a type of unintended consequence .

The term is used to illustrate the causes of incorrect stimulation in economy and politics.

Following is the story behind how this term came into being, and other interesting examples of this phenomenon – at play:

A government sought to address the bludgeoning population of venomous cobra snakes that were boring citizens . A reward was offered for every dead cobra brought forth.. This approach seemed successful at first.

But people started breeding cobras just to claim the associated bounty, which led to government stopping the rewards program, and consequently, the cobra breeders setting their snakes free. After all, they are now worthless.

The result was that the cobra population increased, exacerbating the original problem because the solution was not well thought-out…

This is how this phenomenon came forth… the Cobra Effect


There is also the rat equivalent where a rat’s infestation caused government to also ask that rat tails be brought by citizens, as proof that a rat has been killed, for a bounty to be received.

Like in the Cobra situation people simply promoted the breeding of more rats by not actually killing them, but merely cutting off the tail, and releasing the rat to procreate more rats! 

Why kill a source of income.?

Problem unsolved.


There is also this road congestion situation in a city.

Government thought of a way to minimize traffic in the metropolis. Less cars on the road would appear to be the obvious situation, right?.

So, they allow cars with specific endings in the license plate number to ply specific roads on specified days only.

Say,, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, allow cars with license plates ending in an odd number, and allow on the road,  even number ending, for every other day. (We once practised something like this in Lagos, Nigeria.)

What happened was that,  affluent citizens who wish to drive daily, bought a new car to circumvent the policy.  The not so affluent bought another used car.

The resultant effect? Even more cars on the roads, more congestion coupled with more pollution.

The original problem worsened.


As a Marketing Manager, perhaps you may be e tempted to give ultimatums / targets like, Ensure Product Demos Of A Minimum Of X Numbers Per Quarter (rather than emphasize the actual conversion to customers from demos).

You risk the Cobra Effect, as your Marketing Team may simply prioritize numbers of demos over actual results.

They may arrange product demos just to make up the targeted numbers … even when they know there is low likelihood of success with the one being demoed to,  wasting human and material resources !

While numbers may have a relationship to conversions, the focus should be more on the latter. And rewards should be attached to (just) results and not effort (demos).


Let us always begin processing a solution with the end in mind.

As someone said,


Thinking about first-order effects is easy. Thinking about second or higher order effects is hard.

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