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Tag: Murphy’s Laws and corollaries for business

Murphy's Law, Reframed

Murphy’s Law is pretty basic and to the point:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

As to its origins go back to Capt. Edward Murphy and his work at Edwards Air Force Base back in 1949. (You can read more about this on another post of mine.) The story goes that one day, after finding that an electronics component 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 that one to his list, which he called Murphy’s Law. It then appeared in that contractor’s advertisement and the rest is history.

We’ve been playing with this basic concept for 20+ years, but just in a slightly different and more actionable context. It looks like this:

SWs One - Murphy and RWs

Recently, I posted up a couple of cartoons and one in particular merited a bit of discussion, I think, since it links up so well to the real world application of Murphy’s Law and how it impacts people and performance in the workplace.

Consider this illustration and caption for a moment:

Trial and Error Murphy's Law words

Note that I said Maybe. And DO think about the illustration itself for more than a minute – otherwise you will miss the key learning point.

The illustration is one that I call, “Trial and Error” and I have written extensively on the issues surrounding the common view of this by most managers and organizational leadership. You can find more on this theme here.

Murphy’s Law states that things will go wrong. That seems to be a pretty common occurrence. Tightly linked corollaries to The Law include:

  • Nothing is as easy as it looks.
  • Everything takes longer than you think.
  • If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
  • Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  • Nothing is ever so bad that it cannot get worse.
  • Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.

Viewed in the context of the above, many people looking at the illustration above will see all the problems and issues. They will point out the negative and what should have been done differently. But there is most certainly another side of this. There is the issue of continuous continuous improvement and the reality of how innovation really works.

Sure, the team might have done things perfectly the first time. And we can probably generate another four or five things that they could have accomplished in this iteration of the problem solving. They could have already put on some Round Wheels and they probably could have put the horse at the front. But consider the reality that they are now using a horse and that they have stepped back far enough from their wagon to see that the Round Wheels do already exist!

Now, they need to invent some device or some approach to actually mount those round wheels and maybe fill them with air and maybe adapt the axles to the tire rims. The Reality of Change is not that simple and elegant model that you think might work; change tends to actually operate more like this:

Reality of Change round yellow

Maybe they can find a different way to involve the horse and they can implement a way to thus steer the direction that the wagon goes. One broken Square Wheel can find one Round Wheel as a replacement and that may lead to other things as time goes on. Heck, maybe they can eventually hook up another wagon to the back and invent the train!

Innovation and invention is full of Trial and Error and probably many cycles of it. Understand that some people put a LOT of effort into helping to try or implement new things and make workplace changes and improvement. In many organizations, though, the reality of change is one of risk-taking and opening oneself up to criticism, disdain and derision.

Note that two other Murphy’s Law Corollaries are:

  • 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)

Improvement is about perspective, continuous ideation, constant trial and re-invention. It is about team support and celebration. It is also about getting the support of leadership, which often really requires money and time. It is about the celebration of all of the improvements made to generate momentum for future improvements.

Celebration key to involving me

So, that simple cartoon that we started with is chock full of a wide variety of different themes and messages. I’ll end with an old quote from the NLP literature:

If we always do what we have always done,
we will always get what we have always gotten.

As leaders, parents and managers, we need to support innovation and improvement, and sometimes that just happens when things break and we are forced to do things differently. It is much easier to criticise new ideas because we are sure that the old way works pretty much okay. And a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world!

3smiley

For the FUN of It!

Elegant Solutions

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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Murphy's Laws and why nothing ever actually succeeds

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.

Aw, the responsibilities of the older generation…  3smiley

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:

SWs One Murphy's Law words

or maybe this one:

Trial and Error Murphy's Law words

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.

Scott Simmerman

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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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