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Sturgeon’s Law

Calendar July 8, 2016 | User Paul Saunders

This blog post first appeared in the July/August 2016 edition of the Aircraft IT Operations eJournal

Did you know that a recent study has revealed that 36% of Americans have screamed at, physically assaulted or had some sort of aggressive altercation with a computer in the last six months? This is a worrying statistic as I can only conclude from it that an incredible 64% of Americans, some 200 million people, do not have access to a computer. Threats of violence to inanimate objects are a daily occurrence in my office. I have a whole host of very expensive devices that have literally been demoted to life as paperweights. They tend to be the ones that survive being thrown out of the window in disgust. Unfortunately I have no technological-purgatory for the applications that I hate. In some cases I am forced to endure such sorry excuses for software, if for example, I want to get paid.

Many people who know me understand that I hold these truths to be self-evident:

  • Most business software sucks.
  • If software that you use at work were as good as (some of) the software you use at home, people would be more productive.
  • Software should be simple.
  • Software should be beautifully designed.
  • Software should be pleasing to use.

One of the reasons why so many software implementation projects do not succeed to the extent that was intended is because of these truths. However, there is one type of software that I have never known to fail, and that is payroll. Those system implementations are bulletproof. Can you imagine the consequences of a failed payroll implementation? It would be carnage. I’ve had plenty of run-ins with the warped logic of payroll and expense systems in my career… but you know what? Most people are fine with that, because just about every payroll system that anyone has ever worked with has been bad or worse.

This is the premise of Sturgeon’s Law:

“Ninety percent of everything is crud”;

or words to that effect.

This eponymous law, sometimes known as Sturgeon’s Revelation, is attributed to Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer. What it implies is that most examples in a particular field are rubbish; therefore, that entire field is worthless. Applying this logic to enterprise software suggests that, yes we accept that this example of software sucks, but so does virtually every other example of its kind… so shut up and get back to work.

People who think like that are warping Sturgeon’s Law to one that promotes inertia and inaction. Actually I think you need to look at Sturgeon’s entire quote in context to sense the real meaning. He said about science fiction as an art form:

“Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it’s the ten percent that isn’t crud that is important, and the ten percent of science fiction that isn’t crud is as good [as] or better than anything being written anywhere.”

Don’t settle for second best when it comes to system selection and software implementation. Seek out the 10% that doesn’t suck. Don’t waste your time wailing at the dregs. Consign rubbish software to the dustbin, the equivalent of the paperweight application for worthless hardware, and focus on making the good stuff successful and even better. That way we can ensure Sturgeon’s Law no longer applies to software we use at work…. Or at least that’s how it seems in the world according to IT… & Me!

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