Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Hofstadter’s Law

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 2, 2008

Some industrial activity

Some industrial activity

Over at Oliver Burkeman’s always excellent “This column will change your life” column in the Guardian, this week’s piece is about Hofstadter’s Law.  To quote:

“Hofstadter’s law, conceived by the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, goes like this: any task you’re planning to complete will always take longer than expected – even when Hofstadter’s law is taken into account.”

Burkeman then goes on to discuss why this might be and what could be done about it.  The Law certainly applies to everything from building Olympics venues to even the most basic repairs to my bike.

The column also discusses the brilliantly named “ready, fire, aim” approach to planning:

“Better yet, where possible, avoid planning altogether. Use the “ready, fire, aim” approach, and correct course as you go along. As the blogger Steve Pavlina points out, the advantage is you quickly start getting real feedback. If you’re starting a new business, say, you won’t have to imagine how customers might respond to your adverts; you’ll know.”

This is exactly what I’m doing with my attempt at moving into retail, after taking Roger Croft’s advice: see below.

Meanwhile, having been playing with WordPress’s tags, I discovered this (anonymous) consultant bemoaning the fact that the government department for which he is working only pays £500.00 a day so the ‘programme’ on which he’s working has to find the rest of his £1000 a day fee.   (No problem with that, obviously, I’m sure that he’s delivering £1000 of value each and every day and, after all, the government does have to hit its target of spending £3bn a year on consultants.)  What I do have a problem with is his description of management consultancy as an ‘industry’.  God help us.   Business or profession perhaps, but ‘industry’?  I don’t think so. When people start referring to estate agency as an ‘industry’ we’ll know that our economy has finally collapsed.

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3 Responses to “Hofstadter’s Law”

  1. catswhispers said

    Thanks for the link… just thought I’d mention that:
    a) I’m a girl.
    b) I’m not anonymous, I twitter!
    c) I’m writing a post about the value of the consultancy industry which should be right up your street… 😉

  2. Damn, if I’d read the rest of the blog I would have figured that out.

    giggles + posts about hairdressing = definitely a girl

    Plus she’s a bored management consultant. Got her completely wrong. Waiting with interest to read the new post when it pops up on my bloglines feed.

  3. […] will need to bear in mind while he’s changing things: the Law Of Unintended Consequences, Hoftstadter’s Law and my own Law of Infinite Complexity.  Taken together, they mean that whatever he tries to do […]

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