Chuck Norris Syndrome and IT failure

Some organizations want a super-human, such as actor Chuck Norris, to save their projects. That's not gonna happen.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

During a Twitter discussion last night, I mentioned that some organizations want to improve business operations without change or cost. This ridiculous perspective implies that meaningful improvements arise effortlessly of their own accord, as if through magical or divine intervention. Amazingly, such attitudes are common and underlie many project failures.

A blog post from perlmonks.org directly addresses this point. Technical consultant, brian d foy (no caps), says some of his clients seem to want a super-human, such as actor Chuck Norris, to save them:

Chuck Norris is the man who can do anything, and the universe is afraid of him. Not just the people in the universe, the actual universe itself. [His] abilities are collected in Chuck Norris Facts, which include:

  • Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  • Chuck Norris’ hand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush.
  • Chuck Norris can lead a horse to water AND make it drink.
  • Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.

Brian groups his clients into three categories; the first only needs a gentle nudge to get their project moving:

It's not always that the client doesn't know [how to solve their problem], but that they need someone else to say it for them. The tech people convince the managers by having us confirm what they have been saying. In other cases, they just need a little push in the right direction.

The second group has the will to change and improve, but seems too disorganized to get things done:

There is this weird sub-group of companies who pay consultants for answers they never intend to use. They know what they need to do but have some social roadblocks to solve.

Brian's third group of clients closely matches those I discussed in the Twitter conversation referenced at the top of this post:

This brings us to another, even smaller group [that] wants us to make everything better without changing anything (anything at all), as if we could "chuck norris" the situation:

  • The system works because Chuck Norris tells it to work
  • Chuck Norris doesn't need a test suite. The test suite needs Chuck Norris.
  • CPUs run faster to get away from Chuck Norris
  • Chuck Norris normalizes all schema just by inserting random data
  • Chuck Norris can compile syntax errors
  • Packets travel faster than the speed of light for Chuck Norris, but he can still catch them
  • Chuck Norris has Internet 3
  • Check Norris can parse invalid XML
  • Chuck Norris can break Moore's Law

Brian defines the essence of Chuck Norris Syndrome when he acknowledges that some people believe:

Chuck Norris can fix everything without changing anything.


This issue has nothing to do with code, technology, open source, or closed. Rather, we're discussing a basic human tendency toward stasis and inertia: the desire to avoid change or try something new.

Viewed this way, improving IT failures involves helping an organization become more flexible and adaptable. While there's no silver bullet, simply being aware of the problem often helps.

To determine whether your organization suffers from Chuck Norris Syndrome, ask your team this simple question, "Are our projects repeatedly late, over-budget, or not meeting planned expectations?" If the answer is yes, your folks probably face basic issues around expectation management and adaptability. In addition, I'll bet some secretly expect Chuck Norris to come save the day.

[Thanks to Twitter user, Alex Beamish, for bringing the Chuck Norris article to my attention. Image of Chuck Norris from the web.]

Editorial standards