Codifying life – There’s a law for everything

Not sure if this is in contradiction to my last post, and the idea that there’s no such thing as doing something wrong, but I’m a real sucker for laws and rules of life. Statements that are seemingly always right.

I’ve started to collect a list of the ones that seem to recur the most, and are closest to being like laws of physics.

Betteridge’s law of headlines
Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no. Wiki

A fun one to start, but it’s saved me days of reading pointless articles since learning it.

Goodhart’s law
When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Wiki

Martin referenced this one the other day, and it functioned as an incredible short hand for an article I hadn’t (and haven’t) read. A useful nod to something that’s of little actual value. It’s a dangerous law to apply in your own life though, as it can sap the desire to try and at least try and create some measurable targets.

Peter principle
People in a hierarchy tend to rise to “a level of respective incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another. Wiki

There’s a good explainer and exploration of this one in a Freakonomics episode from earlier this year. But I think it’s ringing in my head particularly at the moment in this, my first year back in a full time agency design role. Starting back up after a few years out of the saddle, and looking toward progression. Is the question, how far do I want to actually go? Or rather, how far might my respective incompetence take me?

Curse of knowledge
The curse (burden) of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with other individuals, assumes they have the background knowledge to understand. This bias is also called by some authors the curse of expertise. For example, in a classroom setting, teachers have difficulty because they cannot put themselves in the position of the student. A knowledgeable professor might no longer remember the difficulties that a young student encounters when learning a new subject. Wiki

This one’s coming up a lot at the moment in all areas of life. A real recognition (at least in my opinion) that most of what is communicated is done so without thought to how much the audience already knows. To be fair, being aware of this curse is hard to maintain at all times, and can verge on condescension if taken too far. Worth the risk though I think. We need more effort in ensuring that we understand each other.

Conway’s law
The adage that states organisations design systems that mirror their own communication structure. Wiki

This one is one that hits you when you come up against it. Or when you’re trying to change it. Otherwise, everything just seems normal and to make sense, which is exactly the problem.

Survivorship bias
Survivorship bias is the logical error of focusing on things that get pass a selection process, while overlooking things that did not. This can lead to incorrect conclusions because of incomplete data. Wiki. Close cousin of Selection bias.

The aircraft example of this is brilliantly salient for me. Told my kids once and they were so fascinated that they sometimes repeat the story.

Parkinson’s law
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Wiki

Every deadline faces this one. This one also:

Hofstadter’s law
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law. Wiki

Together, they create in me the feeling that nothing is ever really finished. Or at least, everything could always do with just a little bit more work.

Case in point. Writing this took all the available time, and more, and it still feels unfinished.