Parkinson's Law of Triviality

From Weekly I/O#68

Parkinson's Law of Triviality: The time spent discussing various topics within an organization is usually inversely proportional to their level of importance.

Article: Law of triviality - Wikipedia

Parkinson's Law of Triviality is another observation from the historian C. Northcote Parkinson stating that people tend to devote a disproportionate amount of time and attention to trivial or minor issues while neglecting more significant and complex ones. Typically, the more important something is, the less time it is given attention or discussed.

Parkinson gave an example of a fictional finance council discussing three topics: the construction of a £10 million nuclear reactor, a £350 employee bicycle shed, and a proposal for a tea room costing £21 per year.

The £10 million nuclear reactor was passed after a two-and-a-half-minute discussion. Despite a member suggesting an alternative plan, no one wanted to abandon the progress made, and another member, who had concerns but struggled to explain them, eventually gave up.

On the other hand, the bicycle shed topic was within everyone's understanding and supported by various life experiences. Mr. Softleigh suggested using an aluminum roof, Mr. Holdfast proposed galvanized iron and Mr. Daring questioned the necessity of the shed. After 45 minutes of discussion, with the potential of saving £50, council members felt a sense of accomplishment.

The tea room topic, revolving around everyone's familiarity with tea, its preparation, and where to buy it, consumed an hour and fifteen minutes of the council members' time. However, due to time limitations, they asked the secretary for additional information and deferred the decision to the next meeting.

While important topics are usually complex and require domain knowledge, minor matters are often easier to comprehend. Everyone can join the discussion, leading to increased participation and debate on things with minimal impact compared to more important issues.

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