Bike shedding refers to the idea that groups will choose to ignore complex problems and focus on the trivial in order to show personal contribution.
It originates from an example where a committee chooses to ignore deliberating on the placement of an atomic reactor and opts in favour of discussing the colour of a bike shed at length. In short, bike shedding is when everyone weighs in simply because they have the confidence and authority to do so.
The bike shed vs. atomic reactor decisions seems obvious to outsiders, but consider these examples closer to home:
- Someone writes a brilliant blog post, but the third commenter points out the typo.
- The committee that organises the company Christmas party meets twice as long and four times as often as the strategic planning committee.
- The company has a Facebook page, but not a SEO strategy
- The owner believes they have to mind the till personally, but their POS system is out-of-date.
- The consultant spends time writing a blog post instead of calling a client (guilty as charged).
What are you keeping yourself busy with?
Of course the flipside of this phenomenon is that you can use this to your advantage in a sales scenario: Get the customer to make decisions about the colour or the fit or some trivial feature, then the major decision (to buy or not to buy) is subsumed in the trivial.
How ethical is it to do that? Or is it simply a bit of sales magic?