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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weinberg's Law of Twins

John D Cook's blog, The Endeavor, has a nice post on Weinberg's Law of Twins.

In his book Secrets of Consulting, Gerald Weinberg tells the story of a woman who had several pairs of twins. Someone asked her if she and her husband got twins every time. She replied no, most of the time they got nothing at all. Just as intimacy doesn’t usually result in one child, much less two, most efforts in business don’t produce any significant results. Weinberg summarizes this observation in Weinberg’s Law of Twins:
Most of the time, for most of the world, no matter how hard people work at it, nothing of any significance happens.
Later he turns this around and states the principle more positively in Weinberg’s Law of Twins, Inverted:
Some of the time, in some places, significant change happens — especially when people aren’t working hard at it.
(Because this is an older post, and because I can't really figure out what to cut without substantial loss, I hope Cook will forgive me for quoting his entire post above.)

Success has a thousand father, failure is an orphan

As a young marketing research analyst, I worked on a project to improve our new product prediction models. For successful products, I found many files in the archives. For failed products, there were few files in the archives.  My first conclusion was that marketing research works: doing more leads to more success.

Then I tried to get information on two failed brands introduced several years ago. I could only find a misfiled memo giving some of the needed information. This memo was by "Mr X", who was by then a senior member in the department, so I went to see him. He looked me in the eye and said slowly, "I never worked on those brands and don't have any information.".

I showed him the memo with his name on it.  He didn't look at the memo, but looked me in the eye again and said VERY slowly, "I never worked on those brands and don't have any information.".

I left. It was clear that the only things Mr. X had worked on were the brands that had become successful. That's one reason he had risen in the department.

It's a world of luck, and even a highly skilled person will be flipping a coin (1 chance in 2 of  winning) rather than rolling a die (1 chance in 6). But if you can get people to forget about the times you flip tails, you will look like a genius -- the type of person who can have twins every time.