The Bike Shed Fallacy

Parkinson’s law in meetings states that the time spent in a meeting on an item is inversely proportional to its value. 

This law is also known as the bike shed fallacy of management attention. It tells us that if the agenda of a management team consists of two items—the color of the new office bike shed and the engineering details of the new nuclear energy plant—invariably, most of the discussion time will focus on the color of the bike shed.

This behavior seems odd, but can simply be explained by two distinctive thinking patters. First, thinking is a high energy consuming activity, so we have the tendency to avoid thinking about difficult subjects as much as possible. The second reason is that it’s much easier to just have an opinion (red looks nicer) than to have an informed opinion (there is a mistake in the calculations of these safety valves.)

If you want to avoid wasting your time on the trivial, while ignoring the essential, consistently apply the following approach: Start every meeting with the most important subject and only move to the next subject when a decision has been taken.

More than 95% of the decisions we take in our life will not matter much: Just pick one and move on. It’s by acting boldly and focusing ourselves and our organizations on those few decisions which really count, that we can really make a difference. 

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/Pi-Lens

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