Unintended Consequences of a Unmanned Speed Gun

Perhaps you have seen these unmanned speed guns.  Some are temporary, perhaps around construction zones or around dangerous curves.  Some are permanently placed as part of a sign, a flashing set of numbers indicating your speed just under the sign with the posted speed limit.  Many work well; they are relatively low-cost reminders of the need to watch our speed.

Except when they don’t.  Near where my brother lives, there is a slightly upward-sloping stretch of a 4-lane street that starts at a stop light and goes near a school zone.  The speed limit is 40MPH.  Because of the slope, it’s actually difficuly to reach the speed limit by the time you reach the speed gun.  Difficult if you are using normal acceleration.  The “watch your speed” zone has now become a “how fast am I going” zone as drivers use the convenience of the speed gun to see how fast his or her car can reach.

And so we have an example of unintended consequences.  Here, it’s much worse than the typical ones.  The “fix” actually encourages the opposite behavior.

In systems thinking, we describe an “archetype” called “fixes that fail”.  Sometimes, “fixes” work for awhile, then fail.  Sometimes, they fail from the start.  Sometimes, they work in some cases, but fail in others.

What “fixes” are you working on now in your organization or personal life?  Could they be candidates for unintended consequences or “fixes that fail”?

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