Murphy’s Law In A Nutshell

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Understanding Murphy’s Law

After hearing the remarks, the technician’s project manager called it Murphy’s Law.

Murphy’s Law describes those days in life where everything seems to go wrong. 

Perhaps the alarm clock failed to go off on the morning of an important presentation. Or maybe the best salesman in the organization goes home sick minutes before a crucial client meeting. Whatever the event, it is largely beyond the control of the individual or business.

Indeed, it is how a business responds to Murphy’s Law that will give it a competitive edge.

Managing the impact of Murphy’s Law

When things go wrong in a business, the cause can be tracked to six factors: human, process, policy, equipment, materials, or environment.

Once the cause has been identified, the business should evaluate its systems and develop best practices to minimize risk.

For example:

  • Does the business have routine checklists to ensure consistency?
  • Does the business have an appropriate equipment maintenance protocol?
  • How is the business turning customer complaints into opportunities for growth?
  • Is the business proficient in human resource management? Are employees suitably trained, skilled, or motivated?
  • Is important data backed up? Are important processes or innovations patented to guard against the competition?

Murphy’s Three Laws of Business Continuity

Murphy’s Law has been adapted to business with two additional laws. 

Let’s look at each:

  1. Murphy’s First Law – “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” In business, the first law highlights the importance of risk assessment and the value of spending money on risk mitigation.
  2. Murphy’s Second Law – “If it cannot possibly go wrong, it’ll still go wrong.” No matter how much time or money is spent on risk mitigation, it is impossible to eliminate all of them. Given enough time, something with a very small probability of occurring becomes increasingly likely. Business continuity plans should be developed to ensure that the recovery from a negative event is as swift as possible.
  3. Murphy’s Third Law – “Life happens.” Accepting that life is beyond their control is important for businesses. While continuity plans are vital, they do not make a business immune to negative events. Background levels of operational risk should always be communicated to management and key stakeholders.

Key takeaways

  • Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.
  • The impacts of Murphy’s Law cannot be controlled, but they can be managed. By understanding the six causes of unforeseen events, a business can develop risk-managing systems for each.
  • Murphy’s Law in business is sometimes seen with two additional laws. The second law states that things will still go wrong, no matter how hard a business tries to eliminate risk. The third law dictates that some level of risk should be factored into doing business. This should then be communicated to management and key stakeholders.

Related Case Studies

As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.
The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.
The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.
The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.
The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.
The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.
The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

Read Next: Heuristics, Biases.

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