The Hub, bikeshedding and why people elect idiots

Here in the UK we’re in full election mania with the deciding vote now just a month away. On the way into the office this morning I read a fascinating article about democracy vs. psychology which looked at why people keep electing idiots.

There were a few parts that really made me smile, (confident people are more convincing and stupid people are more confident because they don’t know their stupid, being a particular favourite), but what really stood out was the thinking around Parkinson’s law of triviality.

Parkinson’s law of triviality is the idea that people will spend far more time and effort focussing on something trivial that they do understand than something complicated that they don’t.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British naval historian, observed and illustrated that a nuclear power plant planning committee spent the majority of its time with pointless discussions on relatively trivial and unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the less-trivial proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself; a far more important but also far more difficult and complex task to criticize constructively (as a result, the law is also known as bikeshedding, bike-shed effect, or the bicycle-shed example – which I always I assumed was something only teenagers got up to).

To avoid bikeshedding here at UBM, many of our project teams regaularly work out loud on the Hub to share their objectives far and wide across the business; helping them to gain different perspectives and ideas, and learn from the knowledge of others.

  • Working out loud often has the intended and very desired effect of attracting new people to the project including who have offer up their skills and expertise.
  • Colleagues can also help you to avoid the bike-shed trap by challenging you to push outside of your current thinking and offer up different perspectives to the areas you’re working on.

Everything our teams learn from outside of their project groups is then fed back in to make it better, stronger and more applicable and relevant to our customers and markets.

Happy Easter everyone – and keep out of the shed!