Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
You’ve probably heard of Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available to complete it.
But have you heard of Parkinson’s Law of Triviality?
Both apply to those of us engaged in the publishing industry and provide essential guidelines for being productive and working on the right tasks.
We’ve all seen the truth of Parkinson’s Law. The day starts, bursting with potential for productivity. Next thing you know, the clock has ticked its way to the end of your work time, and while you felt as though you applied yourself to the task, you didn’t accomplish all that much. Truth is, you probably let the work you had in mind to complete expand until the day was done.
When was the last time you not only cleared out your to-do list but also accomplished more? Probably once in a blue moon.
Parkinson’s Law of Triviality also plays havoc in our lives. By the way, C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a book about both principles in 1957, and his book, Parkinson’s Law, became a must-read among managers of all stripes.
The Law of Triviality states that the more complex an issue, the less time spent on it. Parkinson illustrated the principle with this example: A corporate executive committee finds on its agenda a discussion about building a nuclear power plant. With little conversation, the committee unanimously approves the reactor. The consensus is the issues are too confusing and the committee should just trust the experts.
The nickname for this concept is “bikeshedding” because of Parkinson’s example of how the principle works.
Writers bikeshed all the time. Rather than face the cold reality that you’ve failed to build a brand and that your writing career has cut a swath as wide as a cruise ship, you divert your attention to fine-tuning your WIP’s chapter outline.
Rather than talk to your agent about your plummeting sales figures, you load Hootsuite with a month’s worth of tweets.
Agents bikeshed as well. Rather than do the heavy lifting and complex work of developing inroads into a new category to represent, an agent chooses to continue trying to sell more projects into a genre that’s clearly tired and about to go on life support. Or maybe clearing the clutter out of the office moves to the front of the to-do list.
Rather than enter into complex and difficult discussions with a publisher who has added new, severe and punishing paragraphs to the contract, the agent asks the publisher to change a few minor items and then sends it on to the author to sign.
Publishers likewise bikeshed. Rather than figure out how to make publishing more profitable long-term, it’s pretty tempting to lower advances and stand fast on the royalty rate for digital books–even though, with a long view, neither choice is healthy for the industry or for the artists creating the content.
Or remaindering a book that didn’t sell up to expectations, not considering that, once those copies enter into the stream of reading, they’ll keep popping up as used books on Amazon and in used bookstores. While a small amount was made on remaindering, as opposed to destroying the copies, those used books float around the reading planet like flotsam in space. They supply individuals with cheap reading material rather than the person buying a current title, which would benefit the publisher and the author. Bikeshedding.
Rather than look for or develop new sales channels, put more pressure on the sales team to bring in bigger orders from the same outlets the publisher has been turning to for decades.
You can see how devastating both of Parkinson’s Laws are: One leaves us depleted but relatively unproductive at the end of the day. The other eschews taking a long and hard look at the future, figuring out how to move forward in the face of complex and ever-shifting challenges.
Mr. Parkinson may have called our attention to these laws in 1957, but we seem to have done little to overcome them since then. I personally want to take on the challenge and discipline myself to be proactively productive and to be brave enough to face the hard issues. Even though my answers may be imperfect, they’re preferable to focusing on the trivial or the easy.
In what ways do you see Parkinson’s Laws in action either as a writer or in the publishing industry? What will you do to avoid living out either law?
Parkinson’s Laws and publishing: Why publishers must pay attention. Click to tweet.
Has bikeshedding kept you from achieving your writing goals? Click to tweet.
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net