Parkinson's Law: Better Late than Never!

Ever heard of a guy named C Northcote Parkinson? He was a management thinker, author and historian that lived from 1909 – 1993. Unlike Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, Parkinson was not a fascist. He was a pretty good guy by all accounts and was famous for his satirical sense of humor. Parkinson became famous for his “law” that basically states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available.” This law was first published in the Economist in 1955. The more time a person has to complete a task, asserts Parkinson, the longer the task will take.

Click Here To Read Parkinson’s entire article on his “law”.

Parkinson developed his law as a result of his experience in the British Civil Service. His scientific observations which contributed to his law’s development noted that as Britain’s overseas empire declined in importance, the number of employees at the Colonial Office increased.

Parkinson is also famous for predicting (in the 1930’s) something very interesting: He predicted that the British Navy would soon have more admirals than ships! Amazingly, his prediction actually came true! He based his prediction on the fact that in the fourteen years after 1914, the number of officials at the Admiralty (British Navy Headquarters) rose by 78% while the number of ships declined by 67% and the number of sailors by 31%.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) also gives us a modern application of the law:

“‘Parkinson’s law’ is also used to refer to a derivative of the original relating to computers: ‘Data expands to fill the space available for storage’; buying more memory encourages the use of more memory-intensive techniques. It has been observed over the last 10 years that the memory usage of evolving systems tends to double roughly once every 18 months. Fortunately, memory density available for constant dollars also tends to double about once every 12 months (see Moore’s Law); unfortunately, the laws of physics guarantee that the latter cannot continue indefinitely.”

Another observation by Parkinson (which is lesser known) states that “expenditure rises to meet income.”

What does this mean? Well, it means that inefficiency has been around for a long time, and procrastination only increases the work effort. His prediction about the British Navy also hits home to many of us, with the “too many chiefs” syndrome.

Sources: Managementlearning.com, Wikipedia.org, heretical.com.

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