Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, also known as the Bikeshedding Effect, is a mental model that underscores the inclination to place undue emphasis on a simple or easily comprehensible matter while ignoring more significant ones.
The term “bikeshedding” originated from a book by C. Northcote Parkinson (who gave us Parkinson’s Law.) To illustrate the idea of bikeshedding, Parkinson evokes a situation where a cross-disciplinary committee discusses the design of a nuclear power plant. Most of the members have a limited understanding of nuclear reactor design. Consequently, they will likely rely on the experts’ opinions on these critical matters.
However, when the discussion turns to a relatively simple topic like a humble bike storage shed for employees, everyone feels the need to contribute. This is attributable to the people’s desire to be recognized as valuable contributors and showcase their competence by providing their thoughts on something everyone can understand. As a result, the committee spends a disproportionate amount of time deliberating on trivial matters like the shed’s building material or paint color while turning its back on critical issues such as how to foolproof the fuel control system.
In essence, Parkinson’s Law of Triviality highlights the human tendency to focus on easy-to-understand matters, even if they are less important, because individuals feel more confident and productive doing them.