Are Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle relevant to innovation?
Parkinson’s Law and Change
10 people write 10 reports in 10 hours. If you hire 10 more people how many reports will all 20 people write in the same time? 20, right? Wrong! According to Parkinson’s Law it’s still 10.
Published in 1942, the theory states that “work expands to fill the time available to complete it”. The reasoning is that first, managers crave power and more people to order about and, second, more people create more work for each other. Parkinson’s Law has often been used to victimize the civil service, but it is valid for all organizations devoid of good leadership and permeated by an unimaginative work ethic. It is more valid for report-writers than it is for widget makers or salespeople, whose output is easier to measure.
Innovation is anathema to rigid outfits because it involves redesigning work. When it becomes possible through re-engineering (1990s) so 5 people and a machine can generate 100 reports, or through digitalization (these days) so 5 people and a cloud can let users generate any report they might need, the Parkinson crowds get angry. Their power structures and jobs are threatened and they mobilize to deny or resist the new developments. This is why “lean” and “agile” have become buzzwords today.
The Peter Principle and Innovation
Now imagine you are an invisible spirit looking around an organization. How many incompetent managers do you see?