Grudin’s Law

I was preparing for a lecture this week about the approach which many businesses take to upgrades, be it in terms of their in-house systems, their products or indeed and upgrade on their behaviors and the manner in which they go about their business. I kept coming back to this law which I read about in Donald Norman’s fantastic book ‘Things the Make Us Smart’. The name of the law is Grudin’s Law and the basic premise of it is this:

“When those who benefit are not those who do the work, then the technology is likely to fail, or at least be subverted” 

This law ticks so many boxes for me and it makes more and more sense as time goes on, especially as we move into the future of what I believe will yield a lot of co-creation amongst businesses and individuals. There has been a real move towards trying to be more social with text message services and whilst the internet promises so much that we aren’t even aware of yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that this law will ring true time and time again. 

Chapter 10 of the book Joint Cognitive Systems also discuss this law, and they had this to say on the matter:

“New computer systems are unlikely to be accepted or used if those paying the cost in terms of learning and using the system will not be the one benefiting from the technology.”

This is essentially a different way of phrasing the law but when you apply it to technology it becomes much clearer in terms of understanding the impact which this law will have on software, on phones and indeed on computing. 

A guy from a website which I relay enjoy, Alex, he had something even more profound to say about how Grudin’s Law will affect things:

“Grudin’s Law is an economics description of predicting when a new system will be accepted or rejected by an existing system.  This tells us that we value more highly short term benefit over long term benefit given a set cost.  The interesting question to me is the interplay of the necessary short term benefit and the long term benefit given changing costs of a new system”

Alex here talks abut it in economic terms and as with so many economic calculations, these can be applied to businesses and indeed to products with ease. Ultimately any creation or improvement should be done with the employers or the consumers in mind, and for nobody else. A clear example fo this could be advertising because more and more we are seeing ads created as one upmanship and nothing more. Ads created for other ad people as a muscle flex or a penis measuring contest, rather than ads which are created with the idea of selling a product. 

I think that all of us could learn a little something from this very accurate law which Grudin discussed.