murphy’s laws of war (& business)

Well.murphys stupid

This post is partially silly and partially truth.

And maybe that summarizes all of Murphy’s laws in general. What makes them fun to read is that they almost always seem to contain a <maddening> grain of truth.

I was cleaning out a folder and came across a shortened <there is a website that has almost 100 Murphy’s laws of war> list of Murphy’s Laws of war.

And, no, Murphy is no Sun Tzu <The Art of War>. Oh. But just to say this while it is on my mind … every business person should, at minimum, read The Art of War but it doesn’t hurt to have a copy of the little easy to read pamphlet in your working space. Its good <business> stuff.


Let me share Murphy’s version of war theory before I wax poetically on how relevant they are to business.

Murphy’s Laws of War:


–          Professionals are predictable. It is the amateurs that are dangerous.

–          Never draw fire … it irritates everyone around you.

–          Friendly fire … isn’t.

–          Never forget your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.

–          The enemy invariably attacks on 2 occasions:

  • When they are ready
  • When you are not

–          If the enemy is within range … so are you.

–          Mines are equal opportunity weapons

–          When the pin is pulled Mr. Grenade is not our friend

–          When in doubt, empty your magazine.

–          Don’t ever be first, don’t ever be last, and don’t ever volunteer.

–          If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid.



On every single point I was drawing a correlation to business.


interviewing jonny_asking_questions_2Professionals are predictable. Professionals can be bad … good … lazy … but predictable. And consistent. Why? Because they actually do know their shit. They may get lazy, or play politics or even get bullied by someone louder … but they really do know their shit. Amateurs? Well. Simply … they don’t know their shit. Sure. They may get lucky on occasion as well as they may instinctually be okay <on occasion> but they are extremely unpredictable. Even worse? If an amateur has an early success they stretch that to ‘I am now a professional’ and become dangerous. Amateurs are valuable to have around because (a) they can see things differently so you can work the wheat from the chaff and (b) someday they will be professionals. But on their own? They are dangerous.


Never draw fire … because it does irritate people around you. There is an art & a science to actually raising the objection … drawing out a complaint or criticism. It also contains risk. People do not like risk. Especially if they are not controlling it. If you draw the fire … be prepared to take the bullet(s). If you are not ready to do so? You will irritate the people around you even more.


Ah. Friendly fire. Let’s call it constructive criticism or what could be <and is often called> ‘healthy debate.’ Well. It may be healthy but it sure doesn’t feel good or healthy. I guess this also falls under the ‘if it hurts it must be good for you’ philosophy. By the way? That is a stupid philosophy. Work is difficult enough without offering up the supposed friendly fire to your co-workers.


Your weapon is made by the lowest bidder.   Oh so true. In today’s business world, despite the fact everyone says ‘quality is number one’ they don’t really mean it. Ok. Maybe they mean it sometimes. And ‘sometimes’ means … well … there will always be an aspect where someone decided to go ‘lowest bidder.’ What do I mean? I have a project with 25 aspects. I decide to go lowest cost on 15 aspects so I can go high quality on the other 10. Murphy’s Law? Somewhere within the 15 going on the cheap will haunt you. I say all that <bringing it back to business> because while you may decide to put your ass on the line because you feel confident ‘we did it the right way’ … just know that somewhere within all that ‘right way’ a component was given to the lowest bidder.


The enemy attacking. I laughed when I read this. Why are people in business always scrambling to address competition? Well. It’s because they are always surprised when it happens. And it’s crazy. More time is wasted (a) preparing yourself for an attack that will never come when you want it to and (b) flailing in response to an attack. The point? You control what you can control. Your own company and business. Ignore an attack if it has acceptable losses and attack when you are ready.


If they are in range … you are in range. To me this is the disillusionment of believing you have an advantage. Advantages are so fleeting if you blink you can miss it <and get your ass blown off>. The moment you have an advantage … trust me … someone is already moving into either (a) the space you just left to get you from the rear or (b) into the same space you are moving into to attack all on their own. Never assume you have an advantage. Never assume if you perceive you have an advantage that it will last. Well.  Never assume you are out of range.


Mines are equal opportunity weapons. Pointing out problems doesn’t mean you are absolved from (a) blame, (b) becoming part of the problem or even (c) getting your ass blown up. Notice how people are often hesitant to complain or point out some flaws? It isn’t because they don’t see them or recognize that they shouldn’t be solved … it’s because they also recognize that they could get hurt themselves.  Oh. That’s why having a minesweeper employee is priceless. Pay her/him anything they want if they are good at it.


The grenade one. Well. That is a silly one. Kind of. Why kind of? Everyone makes mistakes … in life and in work. Mistakes, like it or not, are like grenades. Once a mistake is made … the pin is pulled. It may be on a 5 second timer, 5 hour timer … even a 5 year timer … but it is a grenade and it is on a timer. Too many times I see people trapped by their own mistakes. And, frankly, they get their ass blown off simply because they held on to the grenade. I know the metaphor is silly … but you get it. In business <for sure> and in Life <most of the time> mistakes have to be shared. By sharing you not only potentially save your own ass … you most likely decrease collateral damage. Simplistically … Mr. Grenade is not your friend.


When in doubt, empty your magazine. Whew. If I had seen this earlier I would have put it up as a sign in my office. Inside an office there is so much discussion on strategy of what to do and what to say and ‘showing all your cards’ and when … and it is such wasted energy. If you have the bullets use them. Trust me. If you use them all and still get killed it’s because you didn’t have enough or you didn’t shoot straight enough … you didn’t get killed because you should have held one or two back. Plus. There is a fairly well-known fact that magazines <business bullets> are manufactured in quantities. You can always grab another magazine if you get the opportunity. Say what? No more magazines or bullets! Oh well. Just means someone was smarter than you and had more bullets. Holding one or two back ain’t gonna help here either. Use it if you got it.mustache reindeer


Don’t be first, last or volunteer. This one is tricky. But I will give a personal opinion on this … I prefer, in business, to be a quick follower. I know that may sound strange <because leading implies being first and I like leading> but I have always tended to believe the ‘first’ <in general> were simply the most hasty. The most impatient. The ones most scared to not be first. In their desire to be first they just didn’t have all their proverbial shit together. In fact … my dream business scenario is actually to see 2 hasty ‘firsts’ coming out of the blocks duking it out and bludgeoning each other. Whew. Did I just say I liked being the 3rd out of the blocks? Well. Yeah. If it could play out that way. Being last? Nope. Too late. But a quick follower? Absolutely.


If it’s stupid and works it isn’t stupid. In the business world … too often when things go right and someone perceives it happened out of sheer luck or ‘stupidity gone right’ … it gets ignored. It gets ignored as (a) non replicable and (b) don’t want to replicate <because it was stupid>. You want to know what’s stupid? Ignoring something that worked. I am certainly not suggesting that the ends always justify the means but I am suggesting that working is working. Somehow, someway … it worked. Therefore somewhere within what happened something was not stupid.

Please note that it is mostly the arrogant know it all senior managers who overlook the ‘stupid but worked.’ They “know better.” They “know the right way to do it.” Aw … baloney. They are being stupid.



That was fun <for me>.

Oddly <in my pea like brain> I thought of writing this using Murphy when I saw this list in some magazine from the J.Crew CEO on business. Maybe because some of the things he suggests would make great Murphy’s Laws at some point.

In addition? I happen to agree with him on his list. Here are his thoughts … the ones I really liked.


corporate cultureCreativity Tips From J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler


–          “Every business could be creative.”

I talk to so many people about the lack of creativity in companies in America. Part of creativity is contrarianism. Creativity battles common wisdom. Because if there’s common wisdom, there’s an opportunity. In my own experience, whatever was a good idea was a bad idea to most people.

–          “Companies are in the Stone Ages organizationally.”

You can tell by the offices. “I’m going to see the king!” The king is on the top floor and there are 17 people in front of the king’s office. There are layers of bureaucracy. It shouldn’t be like that.

–          “Most companies should have a rule about how big they get.”

Not necessarily assigning a billion-dollar value or a 10 billion-dollar value, but companies that become too ubiquitous go one way.

–          “America’s companies are built to destroy creativity.”

If you become the head of a big company today, you’re not the youngest person in the world. You have a contract. You get a jet. You have a huge overpaid salary. You get bonuses. Do you think that CEO is going to screw around with fast, creative change? No. And the board of directors–the last thing they want is someone who’s going to change things. Steve Jobs–he would bet the company, he wouldn’t care. But there are very few people who run companies that way.

–          “You have to keep moving forward.”

Everything has a trend to it; I don’t care if it’s appliances or engines. I always ask: What has a company done in the past five years that somebody’s noticed?

–          “You cannot copy high quality.”

It takes a long time to get a reputation for quality. There are people in our industry, they’re basically copiers. Look at the cars on the streets. They all look alike. But if you put quality into a product, then have it validated, you have huge credibility. It takes time to earn that.

–          “Simplicity is very difficult to achieve.”

Try to ask someone to make a really good roast chicken.


Good stuff.

Smart guy this Mickey. Maybe he should meet Murphy and create some laws.


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Written by Bruce