08 March 2011

Wiio’s Laws, or why communication always fails

About 10 years ago, I was a part-time lecturer at the Business Communications Faculty of a university in the Netherlands. The subject I taught was Communications Research Methodology. For the students it was one of the last subjects in their final year, before they would start to work on their Master’s thesis.

To set the scene in the first lesson, I always kicked off with a presentation of Wiio’s laws. Osmo Wiio is a Finnish researcher, who wrote these laws as a bit of a joke. Although these laws are a clear exaggeration, I always told the students, that once they would start their career, this might be a good framework to always keep on hand.

These laws typically received mixed reactions from the students. Some loved them, others were puzzled by them, and some even became almost angry with me, as they thought that my view on our profession was for too negative. This mix of reactions was – of course- exactly what I was looking for, as it would spark of a nice discussion about what communicators can and cannot achieve in an organization.

To this day, I always have a copy of Wiio’s laws on the wall of every office I work in. It serves as a reminder to me to never underestimate the difficult job that we as communicators have.

Wiio published his laws in 1978, but I think they are still valid today, or even more valid, probably. Well, judge for yourself, here they are: communications’ own Murphy ’s Law or Wiio’s laws*

1 Communication usually fails- except by chance

· If communication can fail, it will

· If communication cannot fail, it nevertheless usually does fail

· If communication seems to succeed in the way intended, it must be in the way which was not intended

· If your are satisfied that your communication is bound to succeed, it is then bound to fail

2 If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which doe the most harm

3 There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message

4 The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed

So, next time a communications project fails, you can now explain that Wiio’s Laws were to blame.

*In this version, I left out some of his laws that refer to mass communications, and I have seen some other versions with minor changes.


  1. Hallo Jan,
    Ook al ben je alweer een tijdje weg bij Océ, ik blijf jouw blogs met veel plezier volgen!
    Andreas Minne

  2. Dank je Andreas, dat is goed om te weten! Hartelijke groet,

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