We often joke about Murphy’s Law because it is all too common to our experience. I can guarantee you that if you haven’t yet learned Murphy’s Law, you soon will:
“If anything can go wrong, it will.”
As it turns out, many corollaries and extensions on Murphy’s Law have been developed. Here are just a few:
- 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 FIRST to go wrong.
- If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
- Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
- If you use a pole saw to saw a limb while standing on an aluminum ladder borrowed from your neighbor, the limb will fall in such a way as to bend the ladder before it knocks you to the ground.
- The file you are looking for is always at the bottom of the largest pile.
We laugh at these with a bittersweet chuckle because they are so painfully and humorously true. This is why research, preparation, and planning are important. And that planning must include contingency planning. We have to figure out ahead of time what might go wrong, and then have a plan in place for exactly that circumstance.
Just because we think a project will go smoothly is no guarantee that it will. In fact, our overly optimistic attitude might be a sign of our lack of awareness. Jason Fried (Basecamp co-founder) cautions against instituting a new process on the grounds that purely because it is new, the company should be able to profit quickly (“The Myth of Low-Hanging Fruit” Inc. p. 154.):
“In my mind, declaring that an unfamiliar task will yield low-hanging fruit is almost always an admission that you have little insight about what you’re setting out to do. And any estimate of how much work it’ll take to do something you’ve never tried before is likely to be off by degrees of magnitude.”
Conclusion: Be as prepared as you can possibly be for all situations. Always keep an eye out for Murphy’s Law . . . I’m afraid that’s one law that’s never been repealed.