Witty Laws & Principles that Govern our Lives…

We live in a society that is govern by natural laws and principles that dictates every aspect of our working and leisure life. A few of the more interesting ones are outlined as follows:

  • Parkinson’s Law (not to be confused with the Parkinson Illness)
  • Parkinson’s Law of Triviality
  • Murphy’s Laws
  • Peter’s Principles
  • Dilbert’s Principles
  • Moore’s Law

Parkinson’s Law

First articulated by Cyril Northcote Partinson as the first sentence of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955. It was later reprinted together with other essays in the book Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress (London, John Murray, 1958). Parkinson derived the adage from his extensive experience in the British Civil Service.  “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting his law, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while Great Britain’s overseas empire declined (indeed, he shows that the Colonial Office had its greatest number of staff at the point when it was folded into the Foreign Office because of a lack of colonies to administer). He explains this growth by two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” He notes in particular that 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.”

Parkinson’s Law could be generalized further still as: “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.” An extension is often added to this, stating that:  “The reverse is not true.” This generalization has become very similar to the economic ‘law of demand’; that the “lower the price of a service or commodity, the greater the quantity demanded.” Several other laws have been attributed to Parkinson, these include:

  • Parkinson’s First Law: Work expands to fill the time available.
  • Parkinson’s Second Law: Expenditures rise to meet income.
  • Parkinson’s Third Law: Expansion means complexity; and complexity decay.
  • Parkinson’s Fourth Law: The number of people in any working group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.
  • Parkinson’s Fifth Law: If there is a way to delay an important decision the good bureaucracy, public or private, will find it.
  • Parkinson’s Law of Meetings: The time spent in a meeting on an item is inversely proportional to its value (up to a limit).
  • Parkinson’s Law of 1000: An enterprise employing more than 1000 people becomes a self-perpetuating empire, creating so much internal work that it no longer needs any contact with the outside world.
  • Mrs. Parkinson’s Law: Heat produced by pressure expands to fill the mind available, from which it can pass only to a cooler mind.

A bestselling author, T. Harv Eker of “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind”, shares some of his view about Parkinson’s Law: Poor and most middle-class people believe that the only way to get rich is to earn a lot of money. They believe that only because they’ve never been there. They don’t understand Parkinson’s Law, which states, “Expenses will always rise in direct proportion to income.”

“Here’s what’s normal in our society. You have a car, you make more money, and you get a better car. You have a house, you make more money, and you get a bigger house. You have clothes, you make more money, and you get nicer clothes. You have holidays, you make more money, and you spend more on holidays.

Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule… very few! In general, as income goes up, expenses almost invariably go up too. That’s why income alone will never create wealth.” “Therefore, if your intention is to be a millionaire or more, you must focus on building your net worth, which is based on much more than just your income.”

Dr. Paul Hein, in his article “Parkinson’s: The Law, Not the Disease”, has an interesting prospective. He says, “no doubt it is the dream of scientists to discover one law or one logical explanation, verified by experimentation, and not, as yet, disproved, to explain everything observed in the physical universe. Einstein’s theory of relativity may have been a giant step in that direction; I am not enough of a scientist to know, or, truth be told, to care. Dr. Hein goes on to say: “But in 1958, Professor Cyril N. Parkinson explained most of the phenomena we observe in society with his law: Work expands to fill the time available. What a simple, yet profound, insight!”

The verification of Parkinson’s Law is most easily found in government. The professor pointed out that bureaucrats, usually complaining of overwork, want assistants, but not competitors. Thus a busy bureaucrat will not hire someone to share the work, but rather, a couple of assistants to help him, and compete with each other, not him. Parkinson also observed that bureaucrats make work for one another.

Thus, assistant A will ask assistant B to check his research on a given subject. B will comply, asking A for a list of sources which he could use in his verification. A might reply with a list, asking B if he had any further suggestions, etc. A and B would, in short order, become so busy that each of them hired a couple of assistants, thus bringing to seven the number of people doing the work formerly done by one. And they would all be busy!”

“A few years earlier, in 1953, newly-elected President Dwight Eisenhower established the cabinet position of Health, Education and Welfare. He named ‘Oveta Culp Hobby’ the first Secretary of HEW. What in the world did she do, asked Dr. Hein? I used to wonder about it. She couldn’t, after all, just continue the work of her predecessor, because there was no predecessor. She couldn’t just continue with the work already being done, because there was no work already being done.

The agency was brand new, and so was she. Professor Parkinson helped me understand. My hunch is that the first thing she did was organize a staff of underlings. Then she scheduled meetings, lots of them. She analyzed the results of these meetings, and had more meetings to discuss the analyses. She assigned her assistants the job of developing a list of priorities of possible tasks to be undertaken by HEW. Why, in no time, she was as busy as could be! In fact, her agency eventually split in two: Health and Human Services, and Education. And they’re all working like beavers! No doubt, if they stop to think about it, they marvel that the nation, at one time, made do without them.”

“The good professor directed us to something very basic about human nature: we all attach great significance to our work, and tend to expand it as far as possible; and, as a sort of corollary, we make use of what opportunities arise. Recall the move made around the motto: “if you build it they will come?” It’s the same idea.”

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is the idea that organisation give disproportionate time to insignificant items. An example often used is the discussion of a multi-million dollar power plant. No one really understands the implications so it gets waved through the committee with little discussion.

However, when it comes to the issue of whether to provide a bike-shed for workers, there could be an animated discussion about – whether to build it, how to build, what color, etc. The reason is people can relate to bike-sheds – everyone can have an opinion on this issue. The billion dollar issue never gets discussed – instead the $2,000 bike shed can take many hours of discussion.

 Peter’s Principle

The Peter Principle is the principle that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence”. It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the ‘salutary science of hierarchiology’, inadvertently founded by Peter.

It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.

Murphy’s Law

An adage that is typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. According to the book ‘A History of Murphy’s Law’  by author Nick T. Spark, differing recollections years later by various participants make it impossible to pinpoint who first coined the saying Murphy’s Law. The law’s name supposedly stems from an attempt to use new measurement devices developed by the eponymous Edward Murphy. The phrase was coined in adverse reaction to something Murphy said when his devices failed to perform and was eventually cast into its present form prior to a press conference some months later.

From its initial public announcement, Murphy’s Law quickly spread to various technical cultures. Before long, variants had passed into the popular imagination, changing as they went. Author Arthur Bloch has compiled a number of books full of corollaries  to Murphy’s law and variations thereof. These include the original Murphy’s Law and other reasons why things go wrong  and Murphy’s Law Book Two, which are very general, and the more specific volumes Murphy’s Law: Doctors: Malpractice Makes Perfect and Murphy’s Law: Lawyers: Wronging the Rights in the Legal Profession!.

Dilbert’s Principle

The Dilbert Principle seems to be an extension to the Peter Principle. According to the Peter Principle, the subject has been competent at some job in his past. The Dilbert Principle attempts to explain how a person who has never been competent at anything at any point in time can still be promoted into management. Of course, both the Peter Principle and the Dilbert Principle may be operating in the same organization at the same time. A few Dilbert favorite quotes:

  • 63% of all statistics are made up… including this one.
  • Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days the statue.
  • An optimist is simply a pessimist with no job experience.
  • And bring me a hard copy of the Internet so I can do some serious surfing.
  • Change is good. You go first.
  • Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
  • Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems.
  • I get mail; therefore I am.
  • I respectfully decline the invitation to join your hallucination.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a fool about it.

Moore’s Law

The law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who described the trend in his 1965 paper and the term “Moore’s law” was coined around 1970 by the Caltech professor and entrepreneur Carver Mead. Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware and the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop until 2015 or later.

Predictions of similar increases in computer power had existed years prior. Alan Turing in a 1950 paper had predicted that by the turn of the millennium, computers would have a billion words of memory. Moore may have heard Douglas Engelbart, a co-inventor of today’s mechanical computer mouse, discuss the projected downscaling of integrated circuit size in a 1960 lecture. A New York Times article published August 31, 2009, credits Engelbart as having made the prediction in 1959.

Moore slightly altered the formulation of the law over time, in retrospect bolstering the perceived accuracy of his law. Most notably, in 1975, Moore altered his projection to a doubling every two years. Despite popular misconception, he is adamant that he did not predict a doubling “every 18 months”. However, David House, an Intel colleague, had factored in the increasing performance of transistors to conclude that integrated circuits would double in performance every 18 months.