The 8 Immutable Laws that Govern The Future of Work

Hofstadter’s Law, Goodhart’s Law, and six more reasons humans will always be humans, regardless of their technology

Hammurabi’s Law: anything inscribed on stone tablets lasts longer.

Many things will change about work in the future, but many things will not. Especially the human things.

Human behavior, after all, is “motivation filtered through opportunity”. So while the opportunity set for tomorrow’s workers will continue to expand—AI, VR, etc.— but the motivations and social expressions will remain much the same.

With that in mind, here are some carefully curated laws to help you navigate tomorrow’s working environment:

1. The Planning Fallacy:

Predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias. [Kahneman & Tversky]

When planning anything, we don’t tend to assume things will go averagely well (which, statistically speaking, they often will). Instead, we tend to assume they will go perfectly well (which, statistically speaking, they won’t).

Corollary to Hofstadter’s Law: Every minute you spend thinking about Hofstadter’s Law is a minute you’re NOT WORKING AND WILL NEVER FINISH! PAAAAAANIIIIIIC!

2. Hofstadter’s Law:

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

This recursive riddle reminds us that the optimism bias mentioned above tends to shorten timelines, even when we remember things always take longer than we think they will.

3. Goodhart’s Law:

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. [Goodhart]

Coined by an emeritus professor of the London School of Economics, this law points out that as soon as evaluative metrics are reformulated as targets, the incentives in the system change. So, having changed the incentives, those metrics are no longer reliable indicators.

4. The McNamara Fallacy:

Also known as the quantitative fallacy:

Making a decision based solely on quantitative observations and ignoring all others.
“The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.” [Yankelovich]

5. Parkinson’s Law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. [Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress]

Work is like gas: it expands to fill all available space. Give it more time, it takes longer. Charge for time as well, and there’s no incentive to be expedient or efficient.

6. The Lake Wobegon Effect:

A natural human tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities [Myers]

Almost everyone thinks (and will report) that they are above average, at most things—especially intelligence, leadership ability, sexual prowess and driving.

Named after Keillor’s fictional town where ”all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”.

7. Survivorship Bias:

The logical error of concentrating on the people or things that “survived” a process while overlooking those that did not because of their lack of visibility. [Wiki]

Looking for insight only from successes means we are only ever learning from outliers. This distorts the true picture, since most commercial endeavors fail. Case studies are great to learn from, but, by definition, not representative.

8. The Shirky Principle:

Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution. [Shirky/Kelly]

Companies exist to solve problems and are, therefore, heavily vested in those problems remaining problems.

Rosie & Faris Yakob are co-founders of Genius Steals, an itinerant strategy and innovation consultancy, built on the belief that ideas are new combinations.

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