The “fried egg” Law


The “fried egg” law

I have to admit that the first time I heard it, it seemed to me no more than a joke or even worse, a theory created in a dull moment and with no interest about the time passing.

But nothing could be further from the truth…

This “fried egg” law or theory, which is attributed to Charles Handy in one of his essays about leadership and creativity of executives, has a much more solid and real foundations than many other scientific or mathematical theories, which have a more divorced from reality vision and comprehension, because of being too developed or lacking in practice.

In “21 Ideas for managers”, Handy applies concepts of work in organizations from the perspective of a fried egg. Yes, as crazy as it sounds…

Mostly, it says that we have obligations and needs for goals to achieve in our daily work (mostly virtual 100% nowadays), and that is the egg yolk. This “egg yolk”, is our well-known comfort zone. We rarely cross it if we don’t have a good reason, a necessity or an emergency. This poses an almost universal truth: we complete what we fulfil that we have been asked to do, inside our comfort and control zone, but rarely, and even more rarely without a good reason, we are brave enough to cross to open terrain, thinking that we can do more than a simple routine task which is enough to achieve the goal which we get paid (better or worse) for.

The famous “comfort zone”.

If we look for something else, and even more in times of Covid-19, it is essential to think that, metaphorically, the yolk is a “tiny prison” for our actual capabilities. We don’t have any intention to get out of this zone and look for the “end of the egg”.

I am almost certain that you are now reading this and thinking about the times you have fried an egg (with varying degrees of success). Because… Which is the best way of frying an egg? OK, this article is not about the 20 ways of frying an egg, but it is about analysing, with some detail, how much of our capabilities we use making decisions which are up to us. Even more, how much we can move on to apply more (personal) to this hypothetical scenario.

Nowadays, we are taking actions while we are influenced by the pandemic economic situation, the drop in business, the profound uncertainty, the lack of a motivating and promising direction for a future that, with no doubt, we are constructing ourselves. All these factors make us stay in the yolk part. But why trying, if the reward is not guaranteed (and quite literally, it is the egg white what is really important in this law or theory).

I do not know on which side you are (boss or employee), but I am sure that independently of the side you are, you have more questions than before. Where does the responsibility of making decisions or commanding begin and end? What can we consider a success, if executing a task properly or going beyond, and make decisions to go out of the control perimeter of the yolk of the fried egg?

On the other hand, I have no idea about your skill on the art of “frying eggs”, but likely, you don’t know that depending on the way you fry the eggs (which is itself an art), I could tell you which kind of person you are and, therefore, how you react facing the decisions you make day by day. Because there are two kinds of people, the ones who make decisions and the ones who execute the actions from the first ones. And now we bring up the subject…

Which one are you?

Let’s do an example to have a better idea about how to apply this method visually and graphically. Take a piece of paper and a pencil and just draw in the centre of the page a fried egg (if you can use a yellow crayon, much better, more impact). You should write in the yolk the tasks that you usually do in your job (decisions you make, tasks you do, orders you give). Depending on the size of the yolk you draw, you will see the way your scope of decision. But even if you have only a few or just one, and you realize that it is too mechanical or routine tasks, you have a root problem (the tasks you do or your job could be easily replaced by a machine or an automatic system). Besides that, if the white is too big and the yolk too small, and the edge of the egg is too circular, perhaps you should rethink the way you perform your job or your directive role or evaluate the model you lead or execute your actions.

This is about innovation. Try, if you have time and motivation, separating the white of the egg and just fry the yolk. If you try, be sure of having more than an egg available, because the first ten times you try, it is not going to be very aesthetic.

OK, time to leave. It is now 7AM, and I am quite hungry…

More articles by Fran Moreno (Spanish version)

More articles by Fran Moreno (English version)

Translation by Santiago Moreira Martínez 

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