Bikeshedding

How to get caught up in triviality.

I have a fun side project where I draw simple sketches around concepts from various fields that can be applied to everyday life. It's called, unsurprisingly, Everyday Concepts. I have a database of literally 1000's of concepts I've collected over the years from software development, economics, data science, design, etc.

The term that's been on my mind this week is "Bikeshedding," which is honestly one of my favorites because it's one of those that when you learn about what it is, you start identifying it in every interaction and discussion for the next three months. It's one of those once-it's-named-it's-recognizable sort of things (and also Baader-Meinhoff?)

Bikeshedding (or Parkinson’s Law of Triviality) is the tendency to give disproportionate weight to trivial issues of a larger or more complex project. In other words, it's prioritizing something easy to grasp or is debatable.

The term comes from a fictional 1957 illustrative anecdote by C. Northcote Parkinson about a committee discussing a nuclear power plant plan. In this hypothetical meeting, the committee spends most of their time arguing over the color to paint the bike shed in the back, because that was the part of the plan that everybody could understand.

If you're like me, you're probably thinking back to a dozen recent discussions or office controversies that were exactly this. It's so much easier (and way more fun!) to dig your heels in on something of no consequence than it is to prioritize the priorities.

I don't know that there's an obvious way to avoid this either — most people aren't going to be aware that they're doing it.

I would argue that we're mostly not aware when we do this to ourselves!

It's always easier to focus on the trivial. It serves as both an opportunity to avoid more challenging, complex issues while at the same time feeding the need to feel productive through dialogue and confrontation. It's as true for work teams as it is for personal projects, procrastination techniques, and relationships.

What I'm Reading

Cheers,
Gabriel