(How I Learned) Murphy's Law Has Corollaries

Everyone is familiar with Murphy's Law, commonly stated as, "Anything that can go wrong, will."

On October 12, I ditched my typical jeans and steel toes for a dress suit as I was presenting a paper, "ISO 9001:2015 - Efficient Transition to an Effective System" at the European Organization for Quality's 61st Annual Quality Congress in Bled, Slovenia.

That morning, after breakfast, I realized the lining of my suit was hanging down past the hem of my pants. No problem. During the first conference break, I ran up to my hotel room, grabbed some duct tape and taped the lining in such a way that nothing was hanging down past the pants hem. A seamstress I am not, but I can definitely engineer a temporary solution to a wardrobe malfunction that simple. Why was I carrying a small amount of duct tape? I was raised in a scouting family where "be prepared" is less of a motto than a lifestyle. [Small amounts of duct tape can be wrapped around a toothpick until it is roughly the diameter of a highlighter and easily carried in a pen slot organizer part of a backpack.] At no point did I consider this incident to be any type of foreshadowing.

Concurrent presentations at this conference were grouped with 4 or 5 speakers sharing a 90 minute block, so each talk was about 20 minutes. About 15 minutes prior to my group's start, I went into the room and introduced myself to my co-presenters and our moderator. The laptop had icons of PowerPoint presentations all over the desktop, but I didn't see mine. I asked the moderator, who asked the audio/video technician, who asked the conference organizers, where my presentation was. Despite trading multiple emails over the months preceding the event, they had not received the presentation I had emailed on September 19.

I had not carried my laptop on this trip as I was nursing a shoulder injury, but of course I had brought a flash drive with both presentations I was giving. In fact, I had re-verified this drive was operational the day before I left for Europe. The flash drive was empty. Blank. Nada. Wiped. Less than a year old, used reliably a dozen times, there was nothing on the drive:

this folder is empty.jpg

By now it was 10:55am (or 3:55am at my house). No one answers the phone in the middle of the night so I was out of options for getting a copy of my presentation. Murphy's Law.

Luckily, there was a flip chart with markers in the room. Miraculously the markers worked. With a great deal of panic, fear, cortisol, and adrenaline, I began my presentation after the first two talks. Thankfully the audience was knowledgeable about ISO 9001 and was able to follow my hand-written plan.

I was trying to juggle hard copy notes, a microphone, and a marker in two hands. I was one hand shy of pulling this off with any grace, but felt like I was communicating with the audience and finding my groove despite the fear.

Six and a half minutes into the presentation, there was a moment of silence in the audio feedback. I assumed this was my imagination. Until it happened a couple more times. I asked the audience, "Is this microphone giving out?" Confirmation by nodding. Finagle's law of dynamic negatives (aka Finagle's Corollary to Murphy's Law) is "Anything that can go wrong, will - at the worst possible moment." At that point, the moderator stepped out to find the A/V guy who brought back a fully functional mic.

I've heard the "learning zone" is between the "comfort zone" and the "panic zone". I would argue the learning zone overlaps the panic zone (and probably the comfort zone).