Measurement & Instrumentation

On St. Patrick's Day - The unintended consequence of a lost passport, Murphy's Law and a Mosquito...

by Noel Anderson 17 Mar 2011
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Earlier in the week I was returning home from Zurich when I realised that I had lost my passport. Up until that point, my journey home from the mountains had been perfect and I thought to myself “typical, Murphy’s Law!” 

But what is Murphy’s Law? On St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it fitting to debunk a British fallacy linked to this theory, whilst introducing some rather interesting concepts on growth, innovation and leadership… 

Murphy is an Irish name, and the Irish have been the source of jokes by the British for a long time, and vice versa. A hackneyed misinterpretation of this law is that it relates to the perceived carelessness of the Irish. But this is a complete falsehood and the phrase is actually American and comes from the warning "if anything can go wrong, it will" associated with Edward Murphy in reference to the incorrect usage of instrumentation in the aerospace industry – please pity the plight of the real life Chimpanzee that was used as a crash test dummy for g-force experimentation!

Another variation of Murphy’s Law is ‘the law of unintended consequences’ – this concept has long existed but was popularised in the 20th Century by Robert K Merton and comprises of 3 key elements: 

  • Positive – such as Aspirin having the side effect of being an anticoagulant
  •  Negative – irrigation schemes designed to feed the poor that unintentionally create the environment for pestilence and disease
  •  And my personal favourite, the perverse. Here an intended solution to a problem actually makes the problem worse! A loose example of this, on the subject of pests, is The Mosquito... 

The Mosquito was released to the mainstream market in 2006, through Howard Stapleton's company Compound Security Solutions. It was marketed as a safety and security tool for preventing youths from congregating in specific areas. As such, it was promoted to reduce anti-social behaviour. Ironically, the kids cottoned on to an unintended application and now it’s a best selling ring tone! As adults cannot hear these bleeps and ringtones, our youth are covertly using their phones at home and school to communicate and convene, as they plot future revolutions and misadventure! 

But necessity is the Mother of all invention, and adjacent technologies will always be found for existing products and technologies. So what will be the social trends of the future that will drive consumer demand for new innovation, products and services…and their unintended consequences? 

In May 2011, Frost & Sullivan’s Global Community of Visionaries, Innovators and Leaders makes its return back to London. GIL 2011: Europe - The Global Community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership annual congress will be held at my fantastic football team’s home stadium, the Emirates. Over 400 CEO’s and their management teams will spend two days sharing, engaging and inspiring one another with new ideas and fresh perspectives about driving growth and innovating their way to the forefronts of their industries. These executives will explore the radical changes being driven by global mega trends, cross-industry convergence, new and emerging business models and, most importantly, how to implement these innovations for future growth.

The communities 24x365 mission is to support senior executives with the necessary tools and strategies that will enable them to better leverage innovation as a resource to address global challenges. The following video captured at GIL 2010 in the States serves as a great lead to introduce the value of GIL, so feel free to view and forward it on

I will of course be there and would love to meet you to discuss these and many other topics – reach me on noel.anderson@frost for further details. 

So, what happened to my flight? Did I miss it? Am I writing to you from the airport bemoaning my hard luck and the curse of Murphy’s Law? Well no. It turned out that I had a four leaf clover in my pocket that day. 5 minutes after realising that I had lost my passport, a very kind chap by the name of Robin saw me walking along in a state of panic, approached me and said “If your name is Noel, then this is your lucky day!”. On the journey home I learned that Robin is a carpenter and now he is going to build some long overdue shelves for my house – what a great positive outcome for an unintended event; and the Wife is happy too! Thanks for reading – Noel out!

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