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Gibson's Laws

Updated on June 17, 2019
Rhys Gibson profile image

Problem solver || Outcome deliverer || Getter of things done


So what are Gibson's Laws?

Gibson's Laws are my laws. An ever evolving list of principles and rules that seem (to me at least) to hold in so many situations. They continually pop up in all parts of life. If I were being grandiose, I would think of them like the laws of thermodynamics, but reinvented for me. Well, maybe not that fundamental, but you get the idea.

Whether you realise it or not, you have your own laws. These are mine, but feel free to use them yourself if you want. I stole a lot of them from other people anyway. I'm writing them down as an exercise of getting them into one place.

Like any good list of laws there should be about 10. It worked for Moses, so why not me?

The rules may change over time, just as life does.

This write up is just the short, pithy summary of each law. In time, if I run out of money or feel the need to suddenly become rich and famous, I may write the book.

Fundamentally good?
Fundamentally good?

Gibson's First Law - Fundamentally most people are good

If it seems like someone is completely crazy, remember that to them things are (probably) completely logical and therefore they are very likely to be thinking that you’re the crazy one.

This could also be construed as my variation of Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, when used on conjunction with the 6th law (see later). This entry would also not be complete without the associated corollary - Grey’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence”. If anyone can find me the original Grey you get 50 imaginary points.

What I take from this is that I need to turn the situation around and think like the other person. That is not necessarily easy, and it requires a level of emotional maturity to accept that you could be wrong. That's all well and good, but then you also need to make sure you don't spend your life second guessing yourself.

Truth | Source

Gibson's Second Law - The Truth will set you free

Or, if you give away your integrity, what have you got left?

This one is biblical, so it must be true (John 8:31-32 if you’re interested).

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

I first learnt this from Mum and Dad; mainly in the negative sense when not telling the truth definitely didn't set me free. As I get older, I find that being truthful, even at the expense of hurting someone’s feelings, is better in the long run. And you don’t need to go home and have a shower to wash off the dirt.

Note: The First Corollary to the Second Law is that “Kidding yourself does you no good”.


Gibson's Third Law - Trust your gut

Might only work for me, but in general, my first instinct is pretty good, and I need to remember that and LISTEN to it.


Gibson's Fourth Law - Life is NOTHING like the movies

And oh, how I sometimes wish that it was – normally late at night when I’m stewing on a problem and wishing that I could just solve it just like they do in the movies.

Also, it means that those righteously indignant arguments you play out in your head where you take on the world and win… ain’t gonna happen.


So get over yourself, face reality and deal with that.

Gibson's Fifth Law - Only God does silver bullets

This generally comes into play when someone runs up to you and says “The world is ending! The world is ending! But it’s alright, I’ve got a silver bullet that will fix everything!”* They haven’t, unless they’re God, in which case you should listen extremely carefully.

I often get this from other problem solvers. We tend to fixate on solutions and go there very fast.

* Note: That's not what they actually say, but in my head that's what it sounds like.

Bro, Monique says you're dumb
Bro, Monique says you're dumb

Gibson's Sixth Law - 90% of people are stupid/sheep/apathetic/not smart enough to count

I get into lots of trouble for this one, but it's sooo true.

What makes it tricky is that who the 90% is completely dependent on the context. i.e. In one context someone is a part of the 90% and in another context they’re not. The trick therefore is to work out who the 10% are and deal with them.

This could be taken as my version of Sturgeon’s Revelation (“Ninety percent of everything is crap”) when specifically applied to people, but it’s more a commentary on collective intelligence. Ideally, the collective intelligence of a group would be exponentially proportional to the size of the group size. Sadly what normally manifests is inversely proportional to group size due to things like the overhead in communication, group-think, inter-personal conflict, personal agendas, cognitive bias, politics, and some people generally being dickheads.

The trick therefore is in finding the real decision maker/influencer or that one person who has the genuine expertise that you're after in a room of 10 people.

There is an unspoken corollary that I think that I'm never one of the 90%, which is unfortunately not true. So I try to use this law to identify when I am simply having an opinion for the sake of it or because it seems like I should. Then I can either tell myself to shut up, or get some help from someone who actually knows what they're on about.


Gibson's Seventh Law - Don't settle for one when you can have two, and three is better than two

Works in so many scenarios, it’s not funny… cards, octagonal French silver candlesticks, HA configurations and people sharing problems.

Edit: Major revision. I'm not sure why I missed three as the magic number rather than two. Every decent mathematician and engineer knows about the strength of triangles. The Holy Trinity is a three.

In a work context, for me this shows up in teams. Every team has a core of three - typically a Project Manager, an Analyst of some description and one other (e.g. a designer, or an architect, or a change agent)

From Ecclesiastes 4.

9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labour:
10If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Gibson's Eigth Law - Never turn down a free lunch

Some people think there’s no such thing, but I say that the glass really is half full. Look at it this way, at the very least you got lunch* out of it and you might get some good stories, or who knows what else. Of course, you need to apply the Second Law here too. If you don’t maintain your integrity, then almost certainly you will commit to the lunch costing you something in the future.

* And if you're clever, you'll make it steak or bacon.

Gibson's Ninth Law - If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger; or if it doesn't make you stronger, it kills you, one of the two

Friedrich Nietzsche, from The Twilight of the Idols… From the battleschool of life – what does not destroy me, makes me stronger.

I didn't know it was Nietzsche at the time, but my very good friend Michael Perry used to berate me with the first half of this law whenever I got down on myself. I would normally then retort with the second part.

Eventually, "I get knocked down, but I get up again!" became our theme song.

Conan the Barbarian used it too, which is in no way a contradiction of the 4th Law, it just shows that the writer was well read.


Gibson's Tenth Law - The answer is generally grey, hardly ever black or white

Unfortunately. not much is simple. The main application is countering overreactions. If something bad happens, the natural human tendency is to swing violently to the other end of the spectrum, i.e. over compensate. The right answer is probably somewhere in between.

Gibson's Nth Law - Regardless of the other laws, always listen to your wife

Alright I know I said there were 10, but this one appeared about half way through my creating of The Laws. And it’s always the last one I apply. That’s why it’s the Nth law, because it can counter all the others (well that and the fact that as I add or remove laws, its number needs to keep changing. Sue me, I’m a mathematician.

My wife has laws of her own (not that hers are written down - as far as I know, I must google her again), and therefore an alternate and potentially overriding perspective. She’s my best friend, and a smart lady who has my best interests at heart. She is also often right and sees things that I don't. Another application of the 7th Law in action.

© 2014 Rhys Gibson


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