Six Ways to Squash Murphy and his Laws

Everyone’s heard of Murphy’s Law. (or laws, as the case may be). Whenever things just can’t seem to go your way, someone always pipes up and says “yep. Murphy’s law.” Then everyone just chuckles, shakes their head and moves on with life.

So I got curious. Who the heck was this Murphy person? And how did he get so cynical about life? I imagined some lanky old man with stubble sitting on his porch in a squeaky rocker.

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Pipe in mouth, banjo music playing in the background, saying, “Yep. Anything that could go wrong will. I told’yer so.” (throws a potato at the neighbour’s kid with a feeble arm).

Ok. There was no reason for his throwing a potato, except just to illustrate what a grumpy old man he is. So I ended up doing a little digging on this infamous Murphy, and the impact of his words in the 21st century. As I read more and more about him, I thought… Gee, this Murphy guy is so negative. He is so negative, that he drops a bunch of catchy phrases and they become idioms over the course of 70 years. It made me angry because it represents a very passive way to look at life. It’s like you’re a the mercy of whatever is to come, which goes against my every fiber of being. Researching all of Murphy’s laws, I got the sense that this guy wasn’t very trusting in the people around him. Not only that, but he was very conservative in his perspective, never venturing to think outside the box. That is nothing as historically noteworthy as his quips of cynicism. “Yep. No doot aboot it, he would have made a terrible entrepreneur.”


Who was this Infamous Murphy?

It turns out that Murphy (Captain Edward A. Murphy) was an aerospace engineer, in the 1950’s, who was best remembered for his work on how much deceleration a person can withstand in a crash. The original phrase “If anything can go wrong, it will,” was one that he coined (likely in frustration) when a technician incorrectly wired a part of the machinery. It seems that this wasn’t the first time that Captain Murphy expressed his cynicism because one of the guys on his team kept a going list of ‘laws,’ to which he added this one. These were eventually known as Murphy’s laws.

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So I vowed to take on Murphy, and his ridiculous laws.. and through this post, and hopefully  your shares on social media, we can put an end to this silliness. It serves no one any good, and only creates an irritating anchor to pull down people down and keep them sad. (disgusted shiver)

Murphy’s Law: If Anything can go Wrong it Will

First of all, it’s wrong. In the overall realm of the universe, a physical event is exactly as the term suggests. It’s a physical event. The event itself doesn’t contain any meaning, whatsoever. It can’t go right or wrong by itself. Consider all possible physical events in the universe. What makes them go either good and bad, right and wrong, postive and negative are the people who are involved in said event. It depends on how you see it. Allow me to illustrate. Two people may be walking along the side of the road. A car whizzes by. Both people jump out of harm’s way and take a giant step in a puddle. The first guy goes “Damn! If anything can go wrong, it will. My foot’s all wet! Another pair of shoes gone. Gahhh!” The second guy goes “Holy Eff!! I almost got run over! Oh, my foot’s wet. Oh well. At least, I’ve still got a one. Lucky day today!” See what I mean? One scenario. Two perspectives. Onto the next…


Murphy’s Law: “Left to Themselves, Things tend to Go from Bad to Worse”

I’m of the (often hippie) opinion that everything happens for a reason. There are no accidents in life. However, that said, Murphy does have a point here. In that all things: machinery, relationships, teams, systems require maintenance. If you don’t continually work to maintain it (machinery, relationships, teams, systems), they will deteriorate. Hands down. Nothing is perpetually self-maintained. So I would agree that left to their own devices, things, whatever it may be, will likely take a downward trajectory. But does it start with ‘bad’? Not necessarily. The obvious method to Murphy-proof against this law is to constantly work at maintaining whatever it is, if not striving to upgrade it: systems, relationship, machinery, and especially people.

Say you’re the lead the middle of a project. You went on vacation. Applying Murphy’s law: “Left to themselves, things go from bad to worse.” Ie. Once you go on vacation, your entire project is destined to go south. Coming back from three weeks worth of downtime, you would expect to find everything in disarray, nothing accomplished, and you would have to start 10 steps back to catch up.

The fact of the matter is, whether or not you feel that you’re the sole instigator of worldly events, the world, in actuality, moves on. Things might not turn out the way you expect. Decisions might be made differently than if you were present. Tasks might not be completed the way you expect. But consider this: Because you were away, the junior analyst got a chance to step up to the plate. An additional business scenario was discovered because someone else had to review the requirements documents instead of you. Looking at it from the opposite end, the fact that you were not present, created numerous opportunities for others to step up to the plate. It was not wrong at all. In fact, it was very right.


Embrace Chaos

First of all.. relax. Second.. trust in your team. Leadership skills are best developed where there is first chaos. Sir Winston Churchill went down in history as Britain’s most notable prime minister because, among other things, he was presented the opportunity to lead and navigate Britain out of the world war. It was hardly comfortable, but the opportunity was there. Same goes for your team… When you are present, the leadership defaults to you. When you are not around, someone will step up to the starting blocks (when rightly equipped), and carry the torch. As Phrank said again, where there is chaos, there is opportunity.


Murphy’s Law: “If Everything seems to be Going Well, you have Obviously Overlooked Something”

I have two perspectives one this one. My first comes from the realm of technical quality assurance and testing. In QA, we have various stages of testing: System, Integrations, User Acceptance, among others. When we go through testing, we test the functionality, business processes within a system, and how they would work (integrate) with other systems in connectivity. Whenever we find a bug, or something that doesn’t particularly work, they are defects, and we note them down, bring them to development.

Computer codeDevelopment will fix the bug, deploy the fixed version of the code. We would then re-test it and so the cycle continues merrily. One red flag, though, is if we found NO defects. That is, everything seems to have gone well. That is a red flag often because it’s not likely that a development team will produce a completely bug-free code. In fact, any developer who claims to develop bug-free code is either a. in denial, b. clueless, or c. full of it. From the testing perspective, we want to test things six ways to Sunday, looking for what could possibly go wrong. Even then we will likely overlook scenarios that we hadn’t thought of. Hence the importance of going through various rounds of testing. From this perspective, I side with Murphy on this one. No defects = Too good to be true.

We can counteract this one with a continual process to brainstorm scenarios in which to test the system. We attempt to find those hidden pitfalls that need to be fixed. Often someone from an outside point of view will give a fresh perspective on looking at a system, and the pitfalls that are identified will be different from yours, because of this outsider perspective. So a really good way to close the gaps is to invite people who are outside the system to take a crack and trying to break the code.


Our Thermostat of Comfort in Life

My second perspective related to that same law is from a mindset point of view. As humans, we each have our own thermostat to which we are used to how a set of events in our lives should occur.  It is the established framework in which we view ourselves. framework It’s hard…very hard, actually, to break free of these habits so engrained in our mind, in order to achieve stuff that is outside our comfort zone. Without first shifting our mental paradigm for the end goal, we will actually start to sabotage ourselves in order to get back to the temperature to which our thermostat was set…where we are most comfortable, even if we desperately want to get out of it. There are so many scenarios in life where we see this: people who stay in abusive relationships, those who can’t ever seem to quit smoking, even when you desperately want to be able to put away some money. This is detrimental to us accomplishing anything. Often our goals are something that are outside our comfort zone and requires a change in lifestyle, a change in mindset to be able to achieve it. I spoke about this in my last post on ‘How to Achieve the Crap out of your Goals’.

Take for example the goal to lose 10 lbs and gain lean muscle. It requires the right diet, likely different from what you are used to eating now. muscleIt requires a completely different work out regimen to be able to support building 10 lbs of lean muscle in a given timeframe. You might be working merrily towards it… turning over a new leaf and diligently going to the gym 3 – 4 times a week. Everything seems to be going well, but there’s something missing. If that picture in your head still has those weight clinging comfortably to your hips, going to the gym is never going to feel right. And it’s never going to stick. You’re looking for something to go wrong. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.


Mental Picture Overhaul

The best way, and possibly the only way to stop old habits from pulling you back down to frustrating comfort is meditation and visualization. From ‘Beyond Positive Thinking,’ Dr. Robert Anthony advises to visualizing what you would look like, and what it feels like to have achieved that goal, whatever it may be. If it was smoking, for example, visualize and see yourself breathing comfortably, taking in the fresh air. For that tiny moment, you were a non-smoker. Every day, build on this little visualization. Eventually, there will be longer and longer mental stints where your subconscious will think that you are a non-smoker. Gradually, a non-smoker is who you become for good.


Murphy’s Law: Nothing is as Easy as it Looks

Henry Ford quote

This one is an easy one to apply… only… I completely disagree. Often what we create in our world stems from our mind. If we think it’s easy, it will be easy. If we think it’s hard, it’s hard. As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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This applies to everything. I’m siding with Henry on this one. Going through life thinking ‘Nothing is as easy as it looks’ is very tiring. If you have a big project to complete or goal in life that you want to accomplish, I would strongly advise against taking Murphy’s point of view. It’ll be so hard to accomplish anything, with that phrase pulling you down like an anvil!

Instead, we need to discipline the mind, and almost trick it to thinking that your goal is, in fact, easy to accomplish. There are a few ways to do this, but my favourite is via affirmations. The concept of affirmations and auto-suggestions is hardly new. I first encountered affirmations in “Think and Grow Rich,” by the iconic Napoleon Hill. He wrote about one Emile Coue, who was a french pharmacist / psychologist. Coue discovered that when he instructed his patients to repeat “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better” on a daily basis, within a short period of time, his patients really did get better and better in every way, every day.

emile coue quote

Napoleon Hill then took this same concept and applied it to achieving financial goals. You first write down what it is that you want to achieve. For example: “I want to reach $5 million in net worth in 3 years.” Then say it to out loud to yourself. The first time you utter these words, you likely can’t even keep a straight face. You’ll say to yourself how preposterous such a notion is. You just won’t believe it. After a few days, your mind will start to take inventory of it. Repeated over a longer period of time, this idea that was originally so ridiculous that you couldn’t even utter without laughing at yourself will become a part of your mindset. That’s the way the universe works. In my personal experience, when your mind is set to achieve a particular something, the universe will gradually present opportunities to you to help you achieve that goal. It’s never failed me! There are so many instances in my life where this has happened… (Stay tuned for this future blog post!)

In summary, I leave you with this handy-dandy info-graphic to screw Murphy and his laws. May they serve you well in all areas of your life.



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