Some of us old guys are well aware of Murphy’s Laws, but I was kind of shocked the other day when two different “younger people” said that they had never heard of “Murphy’s Law” or even the corollaries. So, in the essence of contributing the the management education of countless millions of our younger managers and leaders, let me share a few of the best ones and the general context of their origin.
The BASIC Murphy’s Law is expressed this way:
Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
As to its origins, I found the following many years ago:
The following was adapted from USAF publication, The Desert Wings – March 3, 1978:
Murphy’s Law was started at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949. It was named after Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force research project designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash. One day, after finding that a transducer was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.” The contractor’s project manager who was keeping a list of similar “laws” added this one, which he called Murphy’s Law.
Shortly afterwards, Dr. John Paul Stapp, an Air Force doctor who rode a sled and pulled 40 Gs on the deceleration track to a stop, gave a press conference and said that their good safety record on the project was due to a firm belief in Murphy’s Law and in the necessity to try and circumvent it.
The doctor also had a paradox: Stapp’s Ironical Paradox, which says, “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”
There are literally hundreds of spin-offs from this basic law which are called corollaries and paradoxes. Some of my favorite ones are these:
- Nothing is as easy as it looks.
- Everything takes longer than you think.
- If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong. Corollary: If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
- If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
- Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
- Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
- Nothing is ever so bad that it cannot get worse.
- It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
- Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.
- If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
- If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
Then there are the parables like these:
Murphy’s Law of the Open Road: When there is a very long road upon which there is a one-way bridge placed at random, and there are only two cars on that road, it follows that: (1) the two cars are going in opposite directions, and (2) they will always meet at the bridge.
Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics: Things get worse under pressure.
The Murphy Philosophy: Smile Today… Tomorrow will be worse.
Quantization Revision of Murphy: Everything goes wrong all at once.
Murphy’s Constant: Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value.
Lastly, there are some corollaries of Murphy’s law
- The chance of a piece of bread falling with the buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
- Of two possible events, only the undesired one will occur.
- Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.
- The other line always moves faster.
- Eat a live toad the first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
- In order for something to become clean, something else must become dirty. But you can get everything dirty without getting anything clean.
- You can always find what you’re not looking for.
- Serving coffee on aircraft causes turbulence.
- The key ring was invented as a device for losing all your keys at once.
- Wrong telephone numbers are never busy.
- Amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic.
- Only someone who understands something absolutely can explain it so no one else could possibly understand it.
- Any problem can be overcome given enough time and money. But you are never given enough time or money.
- All truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, then violently opposed and eventually, accepted as self-evident. (Schopenhauer)
- One thing that’s good about procrastination is that you always have something planned for tomorrow.
These things are fun.
And my thinking always relates to my “cartoon reality of how things work,” making it come together as something like this:
or maybe this one:
Consider “Liking” this post if you actually like this post and I would love to know which of the two illustrations above you think is better. And there are more of these where these came from. So, let me know if you think more of these are useful and interesting.
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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