Murphy’s Law? And do you have it?


The biggest mistake in life is often made by luck. I don’t know if you’ve done anything like this or not. Before going to work, calculate the time to leave the house, think you can get to work on time, but because of a variety of small conditions: forgot to bring keys, long traffic jams, elevator maintenance … and often late in the end. With a positive mentality, thought that it would not go wrong, but didn’t expect that “Murphy’s Law” is always there. Yes, there is “Murphy’s Law” everywhere in life, from enterprise management, social level, as small as the individual workplace and daily life, almost anything can be applied.

Perhaps you are no stranger to the term “Murphy’s Law”, but very few people really appreciate and value it. Murphy’s Law means that if things can go bad, no matter how small the possibility, it will always happen. Many people think that this is just the “law of bad luck”, there is always someone with bad luck. But this is not accidental or superstitious, it is scientifically based!

In 1996, scientist Robert Matthews discovered that people are good at “unreal correlations”. That is, when we’re stuck in traffic, we always think we’re in the slowest lane. The reason is that we always pay too much attention to how others are ahead of us, not on our own progress.

The reason why we tend to remember bad things has to do with our instincts and sense of survival. A negative event hit us more impactful compared to a thousand other good things we’ve done.

Murphy’s law, however, is not only psychological effects but also probability events. There’s a well-known story of “bread and butter” about bad things that always happen – assuming the bread falls off the table and the buttered side will always hit the floor.

After many scientific experiments, Matthews found that the theory was true in terms of solid mechanics and the speed at which bread rotates. When a loaf of bread falls on a standard-height table, it can only be rotated for half a turn.

For the buttered side to not hit the floor, the height of the table must reach 2.5 meters. However, such a high table in daily life seems less common. In this way, the so-called “bad luck”, has a certain scientific reason. Murphy’s Law is the law behind all this.

Murphy's Law? And do you have it?

Why Murphy’s Law happened

From a human point of view, what are the reasons for Murphy’s law? 1. Optimism bias in the field of psychology, there is a phenomenon is interpreted as “optimism bias”. It refers to the tendency to assume that they are more likely to experience positive events and others are more likely to experience negative events.

Simply put, in the same situation, others are more likely to encounter “bad things” and they aren’t.

In the 1980s, a study by Swedish psychologist Ola Svenson found that 93 percent of US drivers thought their driving skills were above average. Illogically, half of the respondents thought they were among the top 20 safest drivers.

Of course, this is not the case, on the contrary, it is precise because the driver’s self-confidence is too high, it has led to some unfortunate accidents.

In the business world, there are not a few corporate cases that lead to decision-making mistakes due to blind optimism. Netflix, which has just won the Golden Lion Award at the 75th Venice Film Festival, made a similar mistake.

Netflix is a digital film rental company that produces, distributes, and plays as one, with a market share that exceeds all other video sites combined and is a well-deserved media giant.

But for the past two months, its share price has been rocked down like a roller coaster. It’s reminiscent of the share price drop in 2011.

That year, Netflix, which has been a huge success and has many users, announced that the new video streaming business will be separated from the leasing business, at an additional cost if users want to experience both services at the same time. As soon as the plan came out, the crowd was weaned, infuriating many Netflix fans. Not only the company losing 800,000 users, but its share price is also down more than 25%.

Less than a month later, CEO Reed Hastings was forced to apologize to the public and revert the decision. Three months later, Hastings admitted that he had made a mistake of “overconfidence” and had failed to take the user’s interests into account.

Judging by Netflix’s arbitrary decision-making, it is this “optimistic bias” that blunts its perception of potential problems and leads to bad results. The lesson of Murphy’s law is that it reminds people of the risks of this blind optimism. 

2. There is a famous experiment in the psychology of ignoring potential hidden dangers: called “invisible gorillas”. The experiment was that subjects were asked to record the number of ball hits in the video while watching the video. But after the video was viewed, the subjects were asked another question: did they notice the gorilla in the video, passing through the crowd. The results were surprising: about half of the subjects didn’t see the gorilla!

This phenomenon is called “Inattentional blindness”, that is, in the case of too much investment in something, it is easy to ignore the matter around, even if it is very conspicuous.

In the business world, there have been many cases of failure by “ignoring gorillas”. Recently, WeChat began to add in new features like creating short videos.

Tencent, which has long wanted to make a big splash in the video world, launched the 8-second short video APP “Microvision(微视)” as early as 2013. The app because of Tencent, has a starting point that has a big cut higher than others. Unfortunately, the app had poor performance, unresolved “hidden bugs”, and finally missing in the world of short video.

In the beginning, the app took advantage of Tencent’s resources and was once at the top of the App Store’s free list. During the 2014 Spring Festival, the app has 45 million people a day, according to official figures.

Although the beginning is close, it has been relying on Tencent ‘s blood transfusion, in desperate efforts to grab users at the same time, but ignored the most important thing – to find their own positioning. It is said that the project leader at that time, did not think of a clear positioning of this product.

Although it’s bad, we have seen the reluctant Tencent begin to re-engage in the “old business”, but whether or not the app can continue getting users, we still do not know. But what is certain is that without the original problem – clear positioning and business model – it will still be the castle in the sky.

Lack of strength is always easier to increase the chances of bad things happening. Especially in the initial period of starting a business, if the barriers to competition are not built well, the more vulnerable to the attack of powerful opponents. Such business cases are everywhere. “You ignore the problem, it doesn’t mean it will automatically disappear, and one day it may turn into a pit for you to step on.” 

The main content of Murphy’s Law can also be divided into the following four key points:

1. nothing seems so simple on the surface;

2. Everything will take longer than you expected;

3. Things that will go wrong will always go wrong;

4. If you’re worried about something happening, it’s more likely to happen.


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