Living Murphy’s Law

“If anything can go wrong, it will.” We all know Murphy’s Law, and I’d venture to say that at some point in our lives, we all fall victim to it. This week, it was my turn.

We’ve been working for months now on a special project we planned to unveil in this edition of the Thought for the Weekend.  I was so proud and excited, and so certain that everything would go according to plan, that I spent the latter half of the week talking up the big unveiling whenever I met with clients.

Enter Murphy’s Law. While I was travelling, a comedy of unforeseen errors ensued which forced us to delay the big unveiling until next week. It got me to thinking….who coined Murphy’s Law?

The term “Murphy’s Law” (the law has always existed and is known in other parts of the world as Sod’s Law or Kushner’s Law), was born at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949. Capt. Edward Murphy, Jr. was an aerospace engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, a project designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash. One day, after finding that a transducer was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Shortly thereafter, the Air Force doctor, Dr. John Paul Stapp, rode a sled on the deceleration track to a stop pulling 40 Gs. During a press conference, he said that their good safety record on the project was due to a firm belief in Murphy’s Law and in the necessity to try and circumvent it. Aerospace manufacturers picked up the phrase and used it widely in their ads. Soon, Murphy’s Law was being quoted in the media and in homes across America.

Murphy went on to work on some of the most famous experimental aircraft of the 20th century, including the F-4 Phantom II, the XB-70 Valkyrie, the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-1 Lancer, the X-15 rocket plane, and the Apache helicopter. He was proud of the law as a key principle in defensive design, but was reportedly unhappy with the public’s interpretation of his law.

But years later, even Murphy’s son, Robert, used Murphy’s Law in its commonplace context. He told writer Nick T. Spark an amusing story about how he once got a job as a consequence of the Law. He was sent to Japan, where he worked as a technical writer, after an auto company there misprinted several hundred thousand owners’ manuals. Among other things, they placed an ‘f’ where they should have put a ‘t’, claiming the car had a “five-speed shitting transmission”.

Shift into low gear this weekend,