Mohan Ram’s First Law

Arguably one of the most momentous laws discovered during the last century in Social Sciences was Northcoate Parkinson’s first law “Work expands to fill the time available.” It will be a mistake to regard his book as a humorous document. It contains a profound and universally applicable truth. It explains how bureaucracies and governments work.

Following his premise, I have discovered an even more momentous and universal law “It is efficient to be inefficient.” I am surprised that this truth had eluded others so long and that I was the one privileged to discover it. Society has gone beyond Parkinson. People do not create additional work anymore to fill the time, they just spread the same work over a longer time, by being inefficient!

The Old Testament recognized this in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. The hardworking son who stayed at home and slogged in the farm was sidelined. The prodigal who wandered away and was a good for nothing, got the fatted calf! When I was young I thought that the father in the parable was being unfair to the home boy. Now with age I realize, the wanderer was smart. He was inefficient and successful!

Consider the situation prevalent in most offices. The employee who completes his work ahead of time is loaded with even more to do. The smart guy who is always behind schedule is let off. The eager beaver gets pats on the back but very little else. He is seldom promoted. It is argued that he is comfortable doing what he does and would be out of depth in a larger role!

My wife complains that our cook takes two hours to prepare the same meal, which she can make in half the time, by intelligent parallel processing; boiling the vegetables and cooking the dhal in the pressure cooker along with the rice etc. I pointed out to her that the cook had two hours to kill. The lady was intelligently spreading her work over the time available. If she finished her job in less time, she will be twiddling her thumbs for the rest of the time. Worse still, she might be even given more to do. For her it was efficient to be inefficient. If she worked the way Vijaya did, she would have been a Commissioner of Income Tax delaying refunds, instead of being a cook!

I saw this manifested in the Ministry of Defence when I worked as a young lieutenant in Naval Headquarters. Notes I used to put up for consideration and approval of the Ministry frequently came back with the cryptic remark “Case may be put up in three weeks!” This happened twice or thrice. I got fed up and sent the file back with the remark “Why three weeks, why not now?” The irate Under Secretary rang up my Director, who rapped me in the knuckles for being impertinent to a higher formation!

Delays happen in most (civil) contracts be they building houses, constructing ships, Bangalore Metro etc. Work starts with a flourish and there seems to be good progress for some time. Then it meanders and slows down to a trickle. The Bangalore Metro is a case in point. I will certainly not be around when it is fully commissioned. Possibly, my grandson Anirudh who is following the Metro’s progress, might get to ride in it to get around.

The Hindi proverb while acknowledging that God is just rightly says “Khuda Der hai, andher nahi.” It acknowledges that even the almighty is behind schedule when giving people their dues! If God is prone to goof around, why not we, mere mortals.

Let me end with the profound thought ‘I will procrastinate tomorrow!’

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