Lesser-Known Technology Laws and Other MIT WebPub Wisdom

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on December 13, 2011 · 4 comments

in Engineering

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth E. McManus, MIT Information Services & Technology

We’ve all experienced with the famous Murphy’s Law eponym: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’ It’s a great law because it is something everyone faces at one time or another, but there are other laws that I thought I would share since they describe common situations managing technology-related projects. A few of my favorite laws*:

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Wadsworth Constant: The constant is 30 percent, which is alleged to be the portion of an Internet video that can be skipped at the beginning without missing anything important.

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/her not to have it.

Hick’s Law: Describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has. The more options someone has, the longer it takes for decisions to be made.

Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work; you have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

Brook’s Law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes the project delivered later. Often people assume that adding more people late to a project will cause the project to speed up, but the ramp-up time for initiating someone to the project, as well as the change in communication dynamics often causes the opposite to be true.

Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Dunbar’s Number: The maximum amount of stable, social connections someone can sustain. While there is no definitive number, most people estimate this number to be around 150. This number was identified by Robin Dubar in 1992, but it is interesting to reflect on this number with the rise of connections people have made through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Segal’s Law: A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure. In other words, conflicting info adds another layer of confusion.

Sowa’s Law: Whenever a major organization 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.

*Definitions provided by Wikipedia

Editor’s Note: For more digital wisdom, read the MIT Web Publishers User Group blog, MIT WebPub, where this post first appeared, watch their Tech TV videos,  or check out their Facebook page.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John Evans December 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Wouldn’t that be “Brooks’ Law”, as discussed by Fred Brooks in “The Mythical Man-Month”?


Jerry Miller December 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm

As a long-time product manager trying to get out telecommunications infrastructure products on a timely basis, I offer Miller’s Corollary to Brooks’ law: Taking features out of a release that is running late will only make it come out later.


Design Company January 5, 2012 at 4:09 am

Amara’s Law sounds like SOPA.
Segal’s Law sounds like ‘Paralysis by Analysis’

.. and maybe i’m mistaken, but isn’t Moors Law based on the premise that everything in computing “doubles approximately every two years”? (different law?)

*thanks for this – i genuinely enjoyed this post 🙂


Randy McKee January 16, 2012 at 10:47 am

@Design Company,

Actually, Moore’s Law is that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.


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