I've had the rare good fortune to work with a funny and competent business consultant at my job. Last week he loaned me a book that I've long wanted to read. I thought that Parkinson's Lawby C. Nortcoate Parkinson was a serious, number-filled MBA academic book. It is, rather, a thin book of hilarious essays that use statistics and formulae that only appear to verify the theories which are accurate prima fascia, no math required.
Parkinson's Law states that an organization will grow at a steady state regardless of the amount of work to be performed. His famous example comes from a study of the British Navy. From 1918 to 1928, the number of ships in the Navy decreased from 62 to 20, officers and men decreased 31.5%, dockyard workers increased 9%, while Dockyard officials and clerks increased 40.28% and Admiralty officials increased 70.45%.
Who cares if the numbers are real; who has not observed the law in real life? At the university, where it is not easy to get funding for new positions, people simply hire more student employees, using money budgeted for equipment.
Or who hasn't observed the Law of Triviality: time spent on any item on an agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum (of money) involved. This law derives from the fact that for decisions that will result in the expenditure of very large sums of money, the participants in the decision are required to understand the details of choices. Those who actually understand the details of a project are not invited to participate in the decision making, and the decision is made on the recommendation of one manager at the table who understands the issue slightly more than the others.
But my favorite part of the book is about a substance called "injelitance:"
The first sign of danger is represented by the appearance in the organization’s hierarchy of an individual who combines in himself a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy. Neither quality is significant in itself and most people have a certain proportion of each. But when these two qualities reach a certain concentration—represented at present by the formula I3J5 [I-cubed by J to the fifth]—there is a chemical reaction. The two elements fuse, producing a new substance that we have termed "injelitance." The presence of this substance can be safely inferred from the actions of any individual who, having failed to make anything of his own department, tries constantly to interfere with other departments and gain control of the central administration. The specialist who observes this particular mixture of failure and ambition will at once shake his head and murmur, "Primary or idiopathic injelitance." The symptoms, as we shall see, are quite unmistakable.
The next or secondary stage in the progress of the disease is reached when the infected individual gains complete or partial control of the central organization. In many instances this stage is reached without any period of primary infection, the individual having actually entered the organization at that level. The injelitant individual is easily recognizable at this stage from the persistence with which he struggles to eject all those abler than himself, as also from his resistance to the appointment or promotion of anyone who might prove abler in course of time. He dare not say, ‘Mr Asterisk is too able,’ so he says, ‘Asterisk? Clever, perhaps—but is he sound? I incline to prefer Mr Cypher.’ He dare not say, ‘Mr Asterisk makes me feel small,’ so he says, ‘Mr Cypher appears to me to have the better judgement.’ Judgement is an interesting word that signifies in this context the opposite of intelligence; it means, in fact, doing what was done last time. So Mr Cypher is promoted and Mr Asterisk goes elsewhere. The central administration gradually fills up with people stupider than the chairman, director, or manager. If the head of the organization is second-rate, he will see to it that his immediate staff are all third-rate; and they will, in turn, see to it that their subordinates are fourth-rate. There will soon be an actual competition in stupidity, people pretending to be even more brainless than they are.
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