I’ll kick off this article by asking you a quick question:
If it were up to you, how would you design the inner workings of a nuclear power plant?
(Think about your answer. I’ll come back to it in a little.)
Now… the staff of this power plant will also have a shed to store their bikes…
What color should it be?
(Think about your answer.)
TIMES UP. Okay, if you’re like any non-nuclear physicist, you had an answer to the second question and NO answer to the first one. (The answer to the second question, of course, is “light urple.”)
So what’s so important about this?
This is ACTUALLY the foundation of Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. In it, it basically says that the amount of feedback and discussion on a topic is inversely related to it’s complexity. (Link)
Allow me to translate this in “Anthony Speak:” If the issue at hand has little fucking importance and complexity, EVERYBODY HAS A FUCKING OPINION. The opposite is true too.
Bikeshedding: My Million Dollar Example
Once, I was flown to a $200mm+ business to spend three days figuring out their marketing plan for a few of their flagship products. A new product was about to kick off: one that would be a partnership with a very very famous female celebrity.
We spent 10 minutes arguing about the fucking color of a button on the homepage.
In fact, the project slowed down significantly near the end. Why? Suddenly, everyone had a opinion on how the website should look, which delayed everything. Soon, everyone from Marketing to HR to Maintenance knew exactly how the final result should look.
Think about the election season. If you go on Facebook, everyone seems to know who should be elected and why. But if I asked them, how would you plan out the fiscal budget for the State of Georgia in 2017 in relation to economic predictions, NO ONE WOULD HAVE A FUCKING CLUE.
Unless all the budget was spent on painting their state bikeshed… now everyone would fucking chime in.
Bikeshedding creates several issues that can cost companies millions each year.
As you saw in the previous example, the company wasted a ridiculous amount of time deliberating something trivial. Meanwhile, a few of their flagship products were losing ground on competitors because they haven’t launched their outbound strategies.
It wastes time AND saps mental bandwidth from yourself and employees.
An real-life example is the person who “always want to start their own business.” They always come up with ideas and bikeshed them when, in reality, they’re wasting precious time that would’ve been served by TRYING SOMETHING (anything!) and learning as they moved forward.
2. Poor Execution
Bikeshedding lends itself to distractions, roadblocks, and “emergency meetings” that pop up endlessly.
Trivial matters suddenly require all-hands-on-deck meetings and CREATE scatterbrained mentalities where pressing issues are sacrificed to noisier issues.
This ruins focus… and from what I’ve seen in many different companies, NO FOCUS = NO RESULTS. They try to respond to EVERY issue when only a handful are important.
Let’s use a different example. In the fitness world, everyone argues about the best exercise, fitness program, or whatever. But if they just PICKED SOMETHING, stuck with it, and stayed consistent, they’d do better than they could ever imagine.
3. It rewards friction.
Instead of rewarding results and outcomes, bikeshedding tends to reward those who battle the minutia because that’s where majority of time is spent.
Suddenly, “Mr. Jones” is the savior of the project because he explained exactly why the logo should go on the right side, not the left side.
Worse, people who might not know a lot about a topic can still take a control of a project. Or they can look good because they’re always so damn busy (busy with inconsequential bullshit, but busy nevertheless).
I’ve worked with people who know where the comma should go in a sentence, but have no idea how their editorial calendar should fit into their overall inbound marketing strategies. Yet, because they can constantly nitpick and fault-find on the most trivial matters, they control the pace of the project and have enough tasks to warrant their job.
Bikeshedding: What To Do Instead
A simple step is to pick the HIGHEST PRIORITY TASK — the task that is truly going to move the needle on your business and life — and learn how to say no to everything else.
Bikeshedding often happens when leaders refuse to say no.
- “Hey boss, I think we should use Arial instead of Times New Roman!” SURE, BRING IT UP IN OUR WEEKLY MEETING.
- “Hey boss, I think we should a different word instead of ‘cleverly.'” YEAH, THAT SOUNDS GREAT. GIVE ME 10 SYNONYMS.
- “Hey boss, I don’t like this picture. Can we replace it?” YES, BECAUSE THE PICTURE IS SOOOO DAMN IMPORTANT. (This isn’t Tinder!)
Then, learn to ask yourself a different kind of question:
Is this REALLY going to make a difference or is there something else more pressing?
You can use it in growing your business AND growing your life. Because, often, the questions we ask ourselves (and the internal debates that result really have trivial importance in your life). In reality, the best course of action USUALLY is to pick something quickly and correct course as you go.
Here are some personal examples:
Since I work solely on a computer, which laptop I picked was important — I’d use it for hours everyday for years. But color I chose wouldn’t make any damn difference.
Last year, I wanted to go to Costa Rica for a month. (Thanks, Acho!) Traveling to Central America, working remotely, and immersing myself in the culture were important to me so I chose to do it. Deliberating about what day of the week I should leave in an attempt to save $30 on a plane ticket, however, wouldn’t make much difference.
In November 2014, the biggest decision I had to make was whether or not I wanted to pack up my life in LA and move to Denver. I chose “yes.” Where I specifically lived didn’t make much of a difference; the biggest obstacle was getting there.
In November 2013, I hated my job and wanted to quit. I was scared, but after a while, I realized all the things I worried about weren’t important; what was important was how I felt inside.
Stop bikeshedding and you’ll reap the rewards in your biz and life.
In the meantime, I have NO idea what a nuclear power plant should look like.