Trivial discussions in IT and Parkinson’s Law

The last weeks I have been following a long discussion regarding choosing one logo over another. Since most of the available logos looked decent it was surprising to see the vast amount of feedback regarding such a trifling issue.

Actually the phenomenon is ubiquitous in discussions between more than a couple of people, especially in IT. It is no surprise then that there is a specific terms in the FreeBDSD nomenclature: the “Bikeshed”

From the FreeBSD Mailing Lists FAQ:

…the word is a derogatory term that refers to any oft-recurring discussion about a particular subject; in particular, it is most often used to refer to a topic which has never reached a consensus within the FreeBSD community. A bikeshed is a topic that will tend to generate immediate meta-discussions and flame

An even better examination of this phenomenon can be found at C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1960 book called “Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson shows how you can go into the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions. Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far. A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV. So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is here.

The whole “bikeshed” issue reminds me of a more general phenomenon: everyone has an opinion, as an infamous quote suggests 🙂


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