3 ways deal with Murphy’s Law

There are things we can control or influence through our actions and then there are situations where the saying Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) happens.

On Wednesday 28th September the entire state of South Australia lost electricity. It’s hard to believe this happened in 2016 but it wasn’t something that could be anticipated as the power outage was due to a once-in-50- years severe weather event (Source: Australian Energy Market Operator). It’s amazing to comprehend that there were more than 80,000 lightning strikes across the state during the day.

The impact on businesses and families would have been quite significant. Undoubtedly they had to make do as best they could while there was no power and get back to normality as quickly as possible once the power returned. While that is stating the bleeding obvious, it’s also the best approach when Murphy’s Law unexpectedly occurs.

On a much lesser scale we all have our own situations from time to time. Recently I had a 3 hour workshop to deliver to a new customer. It was an early morning start and as agreed I arrived half an hour before the session started to setup the room, connect my laptop to the overhead projector and basically get myself ready. This was a workshop I’d run many times before so on 1 level it was business as usual, but I eagerly anticipated a great session with this new customer.

I met the appropriate people, organised my handouts and props in the room and 15 minutes before the workshop starts I go to log onto my laptop (which I checked was working earlier in the morning) as I connect it to the AV equipment and the I get an invalid password message. Naturally, I assume I must have typed it incorrectly so I enter it again only to receive the same response. Hmmm, I’m not wearing my glasses so I put them on and the same issue occurs over and over again. Now I’m starting to panic because the information on my laptop is central to the workshop!!!

I start thinking what’s my alternatives; can I deliver the session without the laptop (I can but the session won’t be as good and it won’t be a great first impression to my new customer), do I call Microsoft (can they even help me and if they can, I doubt the call won’t be resolved before my workshop starting time and credibility will be lost with the audience as the workshop is on productivity).

As the room is filling up I tell myself to relax as the problem must be something obvious. Within 60 seconds I discover a key on my keyboard wasn’t working (a particle must have got under it) so I go to the touch screen keyboard and the workshop starts on time.

I guess you have your own anecdotes where something has gone astray or Murphy’s Law has impacted you at work. I believe there’s a choice to either react as a victim or move onto the next action. I didn’t get clarity in my scenario until I relaxed and understood what was happening and then the solution was simple.

In a lot of cases at work the way forward might not be so easy, but the point is we can’t just stop and do nothing, otherwise we’ll only get further behind. It’s funny how super organised and busy people often have more urgent tasks dropped on them even though they already have a packed schedule.

Three approaches to deal with Murphy’s Law are:

  • Have a s**t happens attitude – it many cases we’re unable to control what happens but we’re in charge of how we react to it. Instead of getting bogged down in what’s happened or gone wrong, refocus and move onto the next action or the next priority
  • Afterwards – if you’re someone who proactively plans and prioritises your work then your schedule can turn into chaos when Murphy’s Law occurs. The choice is either remain reacting to the chaos or get back as soon as you can to the proactive approach you had in place that worked before. Just because an unplanned event occurred doesn’t mean you give up on your system
  • Frequency - If Murphy’s Law is happening too regularly then what can be done individually or collectively as a team to anticipate it and lessen the impact of it? Consistency is improved when variabilities are reduced  

The degree of severity of Murphy’s Law determines how much it impacts us. It’s much less if we’ve developed a rhythm of work that helps to relieve pressure and achieve better outcomes in less time.