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148 – When sense takes flight

Your decisions can have unintended consequences, so give them careful consideration. Listen to hear how one man’s decision caused the deaths of millions of people.

This week on Anecdotally Speaking, we welcome back Shawn! And Mark shares the story of an incredibly successful but misguided campaign led by Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao. It reminds us of the story Shawn shared in 132 – Wolves, cane toads and tubby ships.

If you’d like to catch up with Mark or Shawn in the United States, reach out to us at people@anecdote.com! We love meeting listeners!

Trigger warning: this story will be confronting for some people as it deals with the destruction of a species. If you’re likely to find this too upsetting, perhaps skip this episode, and we’ll welcome you back next week. 

For your storybank

Tags: consequences, death, decision-making, science

This story starts at 04:56

In the spring of 1958, the Chinese government mobilised the entire nation of China to exterminate sparrows. Mao declared that they were one of four pests that destroyed crops and set the population to work.

Those who didn’t have a rifle or slingshot stood under the trees when sparrows were trying to land and let off firecrackers, hit drums or blew whistles. Sparrows were falling from the sky, dead from exhaustion because they couldn’t land.

One estimate is that two billion sparrows died across China within a few months.

There wasn’t any science underpinning Mao’s decision. Scientists thought it wasn’t a good idea, but no one dared speak this truth to Mao.

Sparrows nearly became extinct in the country, which caused insect infestations and locust plagues, ruining many crops and contributing to the Great Chinese Famine. Over three years, millions of Chinese people died because sparrows weren’t eating insects.

The Chinese then started importing millions of Russian sparrows.

About  Anecdote International

Anecdote International is a global training and consulting company, specialising in utilising storytelling to bring humanity back to the workforce. Anecdote is now unique in having a global network of over 60 partners in 28 countries, with their learning programs translated into 11 languages, and customers who incorporate these programs into their leadership and sales enablement activities.

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