Trivialities eat strategy for breakfast

We, humans, really are irrational creatures and our worst enemy is ourselves.

Strategy breakfast is a veritable buffet with many attendant diners.

In May (2024) we discussed how Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.

We outlined how partly independent successful corporate outperformance engines run the very real risk of eventually being brought back into the bigger corporate fold - and will then be consumed by the dominant corporate culture.

A corporate culture behemoth is, of course, an entity that abhors any deviation from the mean. It will thus (when it finally 'wins') slow down and/or even entirely terminate the outperformance.

Our Quirky Imperfections

Today we will have a more light-hearted look at how our foibles enable our perils.

We, humans, really are irrational creatures and our worst enemy is ourselves.

The genus (Homo) we are.
Sapiens ('wise') we often are not.

It's time to have some fun now. Let's do some introspection and highlight just one of our shortcomings.


Here's the rub: It is not just a case of strategy being eaten (by culture or by trivialities/irrationalities). It is also a case of the innovation hub being eaten.

Corporates subsume their innovation hub progeny the way in which (Roman mythology's), Saturn, devoured his sons after their births - as depicted in two artwork masterpieces shown below.

(The images are from Wikipedia. - Just follow the links.)



Parkinson's Law of Triviality

Let's consider "Parkinson's Law of Triviality" (from British author Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1957). We will arrive at that Law by way of his earlier shorter-named "Parkinson's Law".

So, yes, two years earlier, in 1955, Parkinson published two observations in an essay for "The Economist", with the second observation being termed Parkinson's Law.

From the Wikipedia article:

... work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion" ...
the number of workers within public administration, bureaucracy or officialdom tends to grow, regardless of the amount of work to be done. ... officials want subordinates, not rivals, and ... officials make work for each other.

Parkinson's Law of Triviality, presented as a corollary to his Law, then states that people within an organization commonly give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Parkinson used the example of a fictional committee who, while having to approve plans for a nuclear power plant, spent the majority of its time arguing about the bicycle shed for the plant's staff. We have all observed many such conversations in corporate-land.

Poul-Henning Kamp, a significant contributor to the FOSS (Free Open Source Software) community then popularised the term 'bike-shedding' in the software community. Some of us, who have worked in that industry, are familiar with that term and what it means.

The Chain of Behaviours

Hopefully you can see how chains of behaviours now form easily:

1.) Corporate bureaucrats need to expand their work to fill their time.
2.) They also need to maintain or inflate their empires.
3.) Then they start bike-shedding.

The corporate ways of doing things that are not being adhered to (in the innovation hub) thus becomes the obvious place where they need to impart their 'wisdom' and exercise their power. They then focus on the trivialities of the incumbent rules and how the innovation deviates from those rules.

And that, dear friends, is just one way in which that cookie then crumbles.


We mentioned Poul-Henning Kamp and FOSS above.

There has, recently, in the software community, been the notion that FOSS is "coming apart" and will "end in tears and regret".

Well, a few days ago Kamp wrote an essay for the Communications of the ACM where he pulled that view to pieces. This essay of his then reminded us of his 'bike-shedding' and of Parkinson.

Hence the decision to highlight Parkinson's laws today.

One could, of course, continue with many more such examples of our irrationality and of how such irrationalities then help culture eat strategy for breakfast. But, for today, this one example will suffice.