The Logarithmic Law of Usefulness

Theo A. C. M. Classen introduced the concept of usefulness being perceived as a function of the value of a new application or service during a key note speech on the need for achieving better computing power in 1999 when he was Chief Technology Officer for Philips Semiconductors. (See  Dipert, Brian (1999). “It’s elementary”. EDN Magazine)

He stated:

Usefulness = log(Technology)

And the inverse:

Technology = exp(Usefulness)

Simplistically, the examples used to explain Classen’s Logarithmic Law of Usefulness are:

  1. A modern car is not substantively better at getting people from point A to point B than an older car.
  2. 256Mb of computer memory is only 1/8th more practically useful than 128Mb even though the base value has doubled. It would require 16,348Mb (128 x 128Mb) of memory to truly double performance under the law.

The IT industry is constantly searching for technological advances that provide increases in usefulness over time. Indeed, the aim is, according to Moore’s law, to provide a linear increase in usefulness over time by delivering an exponential increase in technology; a clear indication that Classen’s Law holds true.

Can we draw any parallels with Classen’s and Moore’s laws in the field of leadership and people management?

Much has been said about the new era of leadership. We have moved from the authoritarian approach to consensus management. Terms like “Management by Objectives” have come and gone. Now we are looking to lead rather than manage. So time has passed and we are clearly on a journey of leadership discovery but how do we measure the value of the progress made so far and are we in a situation where we could define a similar law?

Leadership = log(Staff Retention)

Or perhaps

Team Synergy = exp(Leadership)


About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.

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Intriguing line of thinking and inquiry Peter. 


Here's some "thinking out loud" triggered by your article.  It seems to me that usefulness is too limiting a construct to capture value.  In the technology space usability and user experience are important additional components in assessing value.  A great example of where differing interpretations of the value of each of these components are at play is the PC vs. MAC debate over which is better. 


So following your line of thought and extending it to innovations in leadership it seems the measure of value must address both usefulness and usability, but perhaps the analogous (somewhat anyway) constructs in the leadership space are theory and practice.  In being a student of leadership and developing leaders for many years I have digested a ton of theory.  The principles of effective leadership are timeless.  While there may be innovation in how those principles are expressed, I have not seen much truly original thought.  Yet ultimately the value lies not in the content itself, but in the ability to bridge the gap between theory and practice in the present moment given the current circumstances and dynamics. 


As a professional in leadership development I believe the value I add can only be measured by the ability of my clients to produce the results and affect the change they desire.  So the equations that come to mind as "models" for measuring the value of leadership innovation are the ones for energy, velocity and momentum.  Still pondering...