Murphy’s Law – When you Can’t Rely on your Brain

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Murphy’s Law

When I travel or go anywhere I try to be observant of the needs of others. Last week as I was standing in line waiting to board a flight. I noticed a bag on the chair by me. The guy in front of me was looking at it and then proceeded to board the plane. Because he was looking at it I thought surely that is not his, so I looked around and because there was no one else, I decided it must be someone else’s. So I proceeded to board. However another woman behind me asked out loud if someone had left a bag and sure enough the guy in front of looked and ran back to get his bag. I couldn’t believe it.

I found two lessons to learn here:

The first was a reminder that our brains are not reliable. Even simple things you would think are “no brainers”, if it requires any processing of the mind, you will always have a chance to make a mistake. This is why Murphy’s law is true: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of making sure that you operate in a way that minimizes risk and complexity in your life.

    I see this in simple things in my own life, like where I place my phone in public. So after losing my phone a couple of times, by leaving it in a store, I realized that I had to change my mode of operation with my phone. So when I am in public, if I ever need to put down my phone, I have trained myself to either, put it in my wife’s purse, or to lodge it in my armpit. I never put it down on a shelf or the little ledge when I am checking out. I will usually remember to pick it up 80% of the time, but all it takes is leaving it there once to cost me a new phone. Amazingly, I haven’t lost my phone or left it anywhere in five years.

Now, the second lesson is for those people who are thinking about me losing my phone and the guy in the airport that left his bag on the chair, and saying, “That would never happen to me” or “I would never do that:”

    It will happen eventually, just give it time. As you talk with more people and gain more experience, you start to realize that everyone has made their fair share of dumb mistakes. Even the smartest people I know have made some surprisingly dumb mistakes. When I was younger, I would get so embarrassed when I tripped, said something that made no sense, or did something that seemed ridiculous. Now, when I do things like that, it doesn’t even faze me.

When I was in junior high,

My sister and her friend asked me to play scrabble with them. They were in high school; a couple of years ahead of me. I was nervous, but I also thought I was smart. So when her friend put down the letters W-A-S, I looked at it and for some reason, it looked so weird to me. I stopped her and said, “That isn’t even a word!” I pronounced it as “waas”, and both of them looked at me and started to laugh. I felt dumb when I finally realized I was mispronouncing “was”. I was really embarrassed. I realized two things, one, that wasn’t the last of my mistakes, and two, it was okay because it didn’t make me a bad speller… well maybe it let me know that wasn’t my strength.

So standing in line, watching the guy come back to get his bag, I told myself: “Don’t overestimate people“. If I think there is any chance that someone might have left their bag, or forgot to do something, or missed something, then I should speak up.

You never know when someone is having one of those moments!

About the Author

Dr. Jacob Kashiwagi is the Managing Director at KSM Inc., a consulting group tasked with helping large organizations and governments be more efficient. Dr. Jacob volunteers his time as the Chairperson of the Board at LSA.