Hacking complex knowledge problems: Van Halen and Brown M&Ms

I had never actually heard the story about Van Halen and brown M&M’s before I came across this Boing Boing entry. Of course, Boing  Boing is always a good for fun stories. Here’s one that also has a useful point about dealing with complex knowledge problems between organizations.


Spotted via Andrew Baron’s tweetstream, this fascinating — no, really! — snopes article on why Van Halen had that line in their concert rider about ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN M&Ms EVER.

Snopes.com: Van Halen Brown M&Ms. The actual 1982 rider was first published online at smokinggun.com in 2008.


Van Halen had good reason to ban brown M&Ms in their concert rider.
Xeni Jardin
Wed, 05 Aug 2009 23:49:58 GMT

Take the time to check out the Snopes article (Snopes.com: Van Halen Brown M&Ms). It presents a design problem of how to ensure that an organization you’re contracting with is exercising the appropriate attention to detail. It reminds me of a similar design hack/lesson I learned first back in the 7th grade. A version of that lesson is, of course, available courtesy of a moment’s effort with a search engine(Directions Test).

What makes this example important is that more and more of our work gets done through other organizations. That increases the problems of incomplete contracts where the tasks in question are sufficiently complex and the environment indeterminate enough that it is difficult, in not impossible. to specify all the relevant conditions in advance. "Brown M&Ms" provides an excellent reminder that the point of the contract is to ensure a successful outcome for all parties.

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