Bike shed – a discussion that pointlessly dwells on details and wastes time
Example: Someone posts a variation on a screen and one person offers .02 on the copy, another wants the header color changed, another wants a different image used, etc. Too many chefs on something that doesn’t even matter much.
It’s something we have to watch for in our Campfire chat room where it’s easy to have pile-ons that don’t really accomplish much. Someone has to blow the whistle every once in a while and say, “Is this conversation really helping?” Calling out “Bike shed” is a quick way to do that.
About the term
Poul-Henning Kamp used the term in “A bike shed (any colour will do) on greener grass…” and gives credit to C. Northcote Parkinson, a management guru who compared building an atomic power plant to building a bike shed. Kamp’s summary:
Anyone can build [a bike shed] 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.
More Parkinson wisdom
Parkinson is also the namesake of Parkinson’s law: “work expands to fill the time available.” He observed that the total of those employed inside a bureaucracy rose by 5-7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”
Some more interesting quotes from C. Northcote Parkinson:
Delay is the deadliest form of denial.
Expansion means complexity and complexity decay.
Expenditures rise to meet income.
The Law of Triviality… briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.
The man who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to regard as important the decisions he is allowed to take.
When any organizational entity expands beyond 21 members, the real power will be in some smaller body.
Men enter local politics solely as a result of being unhappily married.
The chief product of an automated society is a widespread and deepening sense of boredom.