The Systems Thinker Blog

Murphy’s Law: How to Crush Murphy with Better Business Systems

Posted byRon Carroll

On the eighth day, God said, "O.K. Murphy, you take over!

We all smile when reminded of Murphy’s Law. Who hasn’t been a victim? The stories people tell are funny in hindsight, not so humorous when they are happening. The most common variations of Murphy’s Law include:

  • If anything can go wrong, it will.
  • Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  • Everything goes wrong all at once.
  • Things are damaged in direct proportion to their value.
  • It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

When I was showing my house to some very interested buyers a few years ago, a rare microburst struck and rain overwhelmed the roof gutters. It left large unnatural ponds around the house. The excuse, “this has never happened before (I promise),” didn’t help much.

Before retiring, I almost made a fortune with significant ownership in a profitable start-up oil refinery. As Murphy would have it, a small fire developed in a critical area that closed the refinery down for an extended period. Cash ran out, and we were forced to sell to a vulture capital group anxious to take advantage of our misfortune.

Recently, a videographer told me she was shooting the bride’s vows in a backyard wedding when a low-flying plane killed the once-in-a-life-time sound track. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Murphy's Law

Everyone has an encounter with Mr. Murphy at some time, especially when things matter most. Have you ever uttered the words, “give me a break” (or worse), when the unlikely happens, or when you encounter “a series of unfortunate events”?

Maybe you’ve experienced a few of these:

  • The item you are looking for is always in the last place you look.
  • Machines that are broken will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.
  • A dropped item falls in the least accessible place.
  • Whatever line or lane you get in will be the slowest, especially if you are in a hurry.
  • Any time you put an item in a "safe place," it will never be seen again.

Murphy’s Impact on Your Business

Of course, Murphy ’s Law isn’t really real because it supposes that inanimate objects have “will” or that the universe is plotting against us (I’m trying to be logical here, but sometimes I do think they are out to get me).

In your business, you likely see Murphy’s Law at play. The truth is—borrowing from the Pareto Principle—about 20% of the things that go wrong in your daily operations are random occurrences that you can’t do much about. Stuff just happens in our imperfect world.  However, 80% of the things that go wrong—often attributed to Murphy’s Law—are within your ability to control! (see “10 Reasons Why Your Business Systems Fail”)

Now, you could “eat one live toad in the morning so that nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,” or you could take steps to eliminate frustration and lower the painful cost of Murphy’s mischief and mayhem.

The Antidote to Murphy’s Law

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a thoroughly systemized business, things are going wrong all the time. They’re often not noticed, ignored, excused, or explained away. Maybe fixing the problem gets added to your to-do list or New Year’s resolutions, only to eventually disappear off the radar.

The cost of repeated operational mishaps is usually not even considered. After all, to error is human. It’s just part of doing business, normal, to be expected, part of life—C'est la vie!

But hey, besides being your passion, did you get into business to make money or what?

In a competitive marketplace, you have to reduce errors, mistakes, waste, and rework to a minimum. Your success—and take-home-pay—depend upon your ability to manage operational details and protect your company from Murphy’s persistent assault on customer satisfaction, employee morale, and business profit.

Without good business systems and processes, you are the hopeless victim of Mr. Murphy’s minions and their dastardly deeds.

  • If anything can't go wrong, it will anyway.
  • If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
  • You never run out of things that can go wrong.
  • If anything can go wrong, it will happen to the crankiest person.
  • If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

The Box Theory™ Way

With the Box Theory™ Way, you don’t blame fate or people, not even Murphy. You look first at your systems for getting work done. Things go wrong due to one of six basic causes: human, process, policy, equipment, materials, or environment. The question is:  what can you do—what business systems can you create or improve—that will put an end to the recurring problems?

For example:

  • Do you have checklists to ensure work gets done right every time?
  • What is your system to monitor and maintain equipment?
  • What is your routine for teaching and reinforcing safety measures?
  • What is your backup system for computer files, critical processes, and emergencies?
  • What is your procedure to monitor and control the quality of your business activities (to shut down the fix-it factory)?
  • What is your practice to turn customer problems into opportunities that WOW?
  • What is your business system to train people and help them become proficient at their jobs?

Murphy’s Law (if anything can go wrong, it will) and the Law of Unintended Consequences (actions have effects that are unanticipated or unintended) are crushed by the Law of Cause and Effect (things happen for a reason).  Once you look for the underlying cause of a problem, you can implement measures to improve or control the result.

YOU are in command of your fate. YOU determine how many mistakes, errors, or problems are acceptable.  The average small or midsize business allows 3% waste—far too much. You should strive for less than one percent (see Six Sigma).

For example, one error in a hundred opportunities should be the standard for invoices processed, widgets made, goods shipped, and services performed (simple with Box Theory Gold Software). Murphy’s influence will all but vanish when your business systems and processes are running smoothly.

So, In Conclusion

If you still want Murphy as a silent business partner, then plan for stress, frustration, and lackluster earnings.

However, my recommendation is to replace Murphy’s Law with laws from the Systems Thinker.

  • Effective systems and processes are the essential building block of a successful and profitable business.
  • Creating good business systems is the practical application of laws, principles and best practices—the Master Skill of the entrepreneur.
  • Constant improvement of business processes is the key to customer loyalty, profitability, and growth.
  • The true value of a business is found in the maturity of its business systems and processes—their ability to consistently produce desired results.
  • And last but not least, the Box Theory™ Way is the best way to build an organization of excellence.

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Tags: Laws/Principles, System Failure