Here’s yet another nice bit of information I found while browsing Wikipedia last year. I’m sure many of you would be able to relate to the scenario described below.
Parkinson’s Law of Triviality (also known as the bicycle shed example, and by the expression colour of the bikeshed) is C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1957 argument that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.
The concept is presented in C. Northcote Parkinson’s spoof of management, Parkinson’s Law (1957). Parkinson dramatises his Law of Triviality with a committee’s deliberations on a nuclear power plant, compared to deliberation on a bicycle shed. While discussing the bikeshed, debate emerges over whether the best choice of roofing is aluminium, asbestos, or galvanised iron, rather than whether the shed is a good idea or not. The committee then moves on to coffee purchasing, a discussion that results in the biggest waste of time and the most acrimony.
A nuclear reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that people cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions might withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks he or she does), so building one can result in endless discussions: everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that he or she is there.
So the next time your boardroom meeting degenerates to a “pissing match” over trivial things, you now have a less vulgar term to describe it. :P
Further reading: Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?