Smart Thinking

Useful Eponymous Laws

A selection of Eponymous Laws for amusement and edification. Knowing them might save you time, energy and cost and help you avoid design gotchas.

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE eponymous laws is Greenspun’s tenth rule:

Any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad hoc, informally specified, bug-ridden, slow implementation of half of Common Lisp

Any self-respecting sceptic should memorise Hanlon’s Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity

I Sense a Coldness to Your Mentoring: A Dilbert Book

A selection of personal favourites from Wikipedia

Business and Application architects – pay close attention to Conway’s Law…

  • Clarke’s three laws
    • First law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    • Second law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    • Third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  • Amara’s law – “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
  • Bradford’s law – a pattern that estimates the exponentially diminishing returns of extending a library search.
  • Brooks’ law – “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”
  • Campbell’s law – “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
  • Classen’s law – Theo Classen’s “logarithmic law of usefulness” – ‘usefulness = log(technology)’.
  • Conway’s law – “Any piece of software reflects the organizational structure that produced it.“
  • Dilbert principle – “the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.”
  • Gall’s law – “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.”
  • Gibrat’s law —”The size of a firm and its growth rate are independent.”
  • Goodhart’s law – “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
  • Hanlon’s razor – a play on Occam’s razor, normally taking the form, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Alternatively, “Do not invoke conspiracy as explanation when ignorance and incompetence will suffice, as conspiracy implies intelligence.”
  • Hawthorne effect – A form of reactivity whereby subjects improve an aspect of their behaviour being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied.
  • Herblock‘s law – “If it’s good, they’ll stop making it.”
  • Humphrey’s law – “conscious attention to a task normally performed automatically can impair its performance.”
  • Hutber’s law – “Improvement means deterioration.”
  • Kranzberg’s first law of technology – “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”
  • Littlewood’s law – “individuals can expect miracles to happen to them, at the rate of about one per month.”
  • Mooers’ law – “An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.”
  • Muphry’s law – “If you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”
  • Poe’s law (religious fundamentalism) – “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”
  • Rothbard’s law – “Everyone specializes in his own area of weakness.”
  • Sayre’s law – “In any dispute, the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.”
  • Segal’s law – “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”
  • Skitt’s law – “Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself,” or, “The likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”
  • Sowa’s law of standards – “Whenever a major organisation develops a new system as an official standard for X, the primary result is the widespread adoption of some simpler system as a de facto standard for X.”
  • Wirth’s law – “Software gets slower faster than hardware gets faster.”

Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity

Further Reading on Lateral and Creative Thinking

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.