Best known for his adage, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” former 1950s civil servant, C. Northcote Parkinson, has passed into business folklore as a wry observer of corporate culture. So much so that the law has even gone global, as Mikhail Gorbachev observed in 1986, when Alessandro Natta complained about a swelling bureaucracy in Italy, “Parkinson’s Law works everywhere”.
Perhaps less well known is his Law of Triviality, first mentioned in the 1956 book “Parkinson’s law, and other studies in administration.”
Parkinson outlines his idea with a theoretical committee’s deliberations on a nuclear power plant, contrasting it to deliberation on a bicycle shed. As he put it:
“The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.”
In other words, a nuclear reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it. So we assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions often withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed.
On the other hand, everyone can visualize a bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that they have contributed.
If that sounds familiar at least now you know why! Now, where did we put those bicycle clips…