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Parkinson's law of triviality (bikeshedding)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Parkinson's law of triviality is an observation about the human tendency to devote a great deal of time to unimportant details while crucial matters go unattended. 

Parkinson's law of triviality is not the principle known as Parkinson's law, which is the familiar observation that work expands to use up the amount of time allocated for it. However, both principles were originally formulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British Naval historian and author. 

The act of wasting time on trivial details while important matters are inadequately attended is sometimes known as bikeshedding. That term originates from Parkinson's observation of a committee organized to approve plans for a nuclear power plant. As Parkinson noted, the committee devoted a disproportionate amount of time to relatively unimportant details -- such as the materials for a bicycle storage shed -- which limited the time available to focus on the design of the nuclear plant. 

As is the case with the more famous Parkinson's law, the law of triviality has implications for many areas of business, including  time management, resource allocation, project planning and project management.

This was last updated in April 2015

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