Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Simplicity and Parkinson’s Law

“Parkinson’s law stated that ‘Work expands to fill the time allotted to it’. There should be a law of complexity which might go: ‘Sufficient complexity will always be created to fill the need for complexity’.”

-Edward De Bono, Simplicity, (London: Penguin Books, 1999)

C. Northcote Parkinson demonstrates that the relationship between the number of workers and the quantity of the work to be done have no correlation; likewise, Edward De Bono seeks also to demonstrate that people will always try to ensure there is ‘sufficient complexity’ to fill the ‘need’ for it. Apparently complexity is necessary for its own purpose.

The Law of Multiplication of Work (propounded by Parkinson as part of the theory of his law) suggests that it is human nature for the ‘overworked’ person to seek the assistance of subordinates to help him or herself out.

For each person employed in these ways we see an extra level of complexity designed into the process and not all of it is productive; in fact, most of it is bureaucratic in the absolute worst sense of that word. And the overworked person who started it all ends up more stressed than ever.

Why do we invent ways to make things unnecessarily complex? It’s probably for a variety of reasons, not the least of which would be to protect our own kingdoms.

It’s a fascinating concept, isn’t it that time is flexible enough to be moulded to our needs such that it will inevitably be filled. Whether we take a full working day to send a post card or it takes us three whole minutes, as Parkinson illustrates, the time’s filled and can’t be redeemed.

It’s the same for complexity. There’s really no benefit to it, and the worst of it is it can make life awfully difficult for ourselves and others--but then again, some people would be quite okay with that. These would be those who radically embrace complexity and activity often for no logical reason. But logic, it seems, is an abstract concept.

Our goal is to nonetheless understand and deal with it or challenge it and resolve it. The world’s screaming need is for more people who can accept simplicity on its own terms without endless argument and analysis.
Now, that would be a fresh outcome!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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