You are not the law

People are always trying to break the law.

Not just the usual obvious ones where police come after you blowing whistles, but the invisible ones that govern the entire universe.

Here is an example, that picture (above) of an impossible car.  It can’t and won’t work. No matter how much you want it to, it listens to another law, the law of thermodynamics. Not the law of you. That little car won’t move, the universe does not provide a free lunch. It needs some energy to work, and the two magnets are not lunch.

The same holds true of an awful lot of things in organisations. People ignoring the fundamental laws of the organisation. These include:

Ashby’s Law
In short: “Only variety can absorb variety”
What’s it mean then?: If you want to enable something to match the demands of something else, they both must be able to have the same spread of responses available.
Examples of the law in action: Humans have the same amount of variety as each other. Anyone can walk into a bar and ask for a drink, and the barman can respond. A computer cannot. It might be able to dispense a pint of beer, but if the human asks for a vodka martini stirred not shaken, it is probably going to be presenting more variety of demand than the computer barman can respond usefull to. Stick something other than a human into the interaction and things start going wrong. Luckily nobody has invented robot barmen. They have invented robot callcentres though which exhibits this rule nicely in most interactions I have had with them.

Le Chatelier-Braun Principle
In short: “If any change is imposed on a system in equilibrium, the system will change in such a way as to counteract the imposed change.”
What’s it mean then?: Make a change and the system will push back.
Example of the law in action: Following the riots in England in 2011 the state response was to take out gang leaders. This resulted in a creation of power vacuums in gangs with sudden shifts in the dynamics of the gangs, increasing instability, inter gang violence and a sudden uptake in the recruitment of young children. [link]

Fundamental Law of Administrative Workings (FLAW)
In short: “things are what they are reported to be”
What’s it mean then?: the system can only understand what has been officially reported to be the case. Everything else is merely hearsay
Example of the law in action: I was in a taxi this week, the driver was telling me how they had been arguing with a public sector functionary about a claim for benefit which had been incorrectly calculated. The taxi driver had made a claim and had included the costs of car servicing, a part of their self employment costs. There wasn’t a place on the form for this, so she had put it under “other costs”.  Sadly for her, including car costs under “other costs” means it was not an expense incurred by self employed drivers, but was interpreted as an attempt to claim for cost of travelling to work, and therefore not included. It was on the form, see? Ignoring Ashbys Law often results in this law being seen in action.

There’s plenty of laws in the world and therefore in organisations. The chief executives word is not law. It’s only opinion. Problem is, people confuse opinion with law. These laws govern what happens around you, peoples wishes only try to. There’s a brilliant little book all about them, and another one here.   Some of these are not made-up too.  They are the laws, you are not.

There’s only one person who is the law…


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