Book Review: C Northcote Parkinson ~ Parkinson’s Law or the pursuit of progress (1957)

This book is one of the most influential books that has been written. Like Catch-22 it has entered the language and the psyche of even those who haven’t read it. Parkinson’s Law is brutally simple.

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (p14)

If that was the only insight then this book would have disappeared without trace and become a quaint relic of a by-gone era. It’s the way in which this insight is developed into various classic business scenarios, which shifts the book into being a classic. Parkinson introduces his concept by showing that teams increase in size in proportion to their inability to complete the tasks (chapter one). In brief how bureaucracies become unwieldy and incapable of action.

Chapter three on committees is a blueprint for the collapse of the British Cabinet system.1 ”the ideal size of a cabinet usually appears… to be five.”(p41) Needless to relate Theresa May’s cabinet isn’t five. It has 21 members plus another five non-cabinet members who attend. As a consequence her cabinet is an ill-disciplined rabble.

Parkinson considers the architect designed company head-quarters to be a symptom of decline. When we see how the USA’s Wallmart one of largest companies in the world is notoriously frugal, as is Ryanair. Needless to relate both are rather successful. “Another [historian] says of Versailles that ‘The whole thing…was completed just when Louis’ power had begun to wane.’” (p90)

Read this classic book. It’s a classic because it’s wonderful (and short pp123).

1 See https://www.parliament.uk/

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