Saturday, May 2, 2020

Parkinson's Law of Triviality: Sad to Say It's All Too Common

We're all familiar with the expression "fiddling while Rome burns." Another, like it, is "re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." Whether true or not (the fiddle, for example, had not yet been invented during the time of Emperor Nero) both of these expressions have served as illustrations of Parkinson's Law of Trivialities.

It was C. Northcote Parkinson who in 1957 codified the argument that "members of an organization give disproportionate weight to trivial issues." We've all seen examples of it, no doubt. It's often at the heart of micromanaging. Spending hours on the size of a logo on an ad by a senior manager who never asks whether this is the right message for this publication or the right product for this audience.

Parkinson provides the example of a fictional committee whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant spending the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed, while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself, which is far more important and a far more difficult and complex task. (Wikipedia)

This is a wonderful example of why G.K. Chesterton said that you search the world over in all the cities and not find a statue of committees.

Parkinson's Law has been applied to software development and other activities. The terms bicycle-shed effect, bike-shed effect, and bike-shedding were coined as metaphors to illuminate the law of triviality; it was popularized in the Berkeley Software Distribution community by the Danish software developer Poul-Henning Kamp in 1999 and has spread from there to the whole software industry. (Wikipedia)

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Related: The Law of Diminishing Returns

Related Link
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Original Parkinson’s Law and The Law of Triviality


Daniel Botkin said...

Do you read Dilbert cartoons? This reminds me of things Dilbert's pointy-haired boss does.

Ed Newman said...

The only reason we get a Sunday paper is to read Dilbert.
Well, that's overstating it, but there's a half truth there.
Thanks for the comment/note, Daniel. I trust you are well.

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