Thursday, August 9, 2012

Parkinson's Law and the Chinese myth

You probably have heard about the Parkinson's Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. It was originally appeared as a humourous piece of article published in 1955 in the Economist. But Mr. Parkinson was serious, he formalized his conclusion in the following formula (see image below):

In any public administrative department not actually at war a staff increase may be
expected to follow this formula:

x = (2km + p) / n

where k is the number of staff seeking promotion through the appointment of
subordinates; p represents the difference between the ages of appointment and retirement;
m is the number of man hours devoted to answering minutes within the department; and n
is the number of effective units being administered. Then x will be the number of new
staff required each year.

I also find another observation in his book Parkinson's Law, a collection of humourous articles, interesting:  THE SHORT LIST, OR PRINCIPLES OF SELECTION. He had the following to say,

" So rarely does the occasion arise for appointing a Chinese translator to the Foreign Office or State Department that the method used is little known. The post is advertised and the applications go, let us suppose, to a committee of five. Three are civil servants and two are Chinese scholars 51 of great eminence. Heaped on the table before this committee are 483 forms of application, with testimonials attached.

All the applicants are Chinese and all without exception have a first degree from Peking or Amoy and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Cornell or Johns Hopkins. The majority of the candidates have at one time held ministerial office in Formosa. Some have attached their photographs. Others have (perhaps wisely) refrained from doing so.

The chairman turns to the leading Chinese expert and says, "Perhaps Dr. Wu can tell us which of these candidates should be put on the short list." Dr. Wu smiles enigmatically and points to the heap. "None of them any good," he says briefly. "But how--I mean, why not?" asks the chairman, surprised. "Because no good scholar would ever apply. He would fear to lose face if he were not chosen." "So what do we do now?" asks the chairman. "I think," says Dr. Wu, "we might persuade Dr. Lim to take this post. What do you think. Dr. Lee?" "Yes, I think he might," says Lee, "but we couldn't approach him ourselves of course. We could ask Dr. Tan whether he thinks Dr. Lim would be interested." "I don't know Dr. Tan," says Wu, "but I know his friend Dr. Wong."

By then the chairman is too muddled to know who is to be approached by whom. But the great thing is that all the applications are thrown into the waste-paper basket, only one candidate being considered, and he a man who did not apply."

Mr. Parkinson was a keen observer of novel patterns.  Of course, this "modern Chinese method" (as conned by Mr. Parkinson) is nowadays outdated.  It usually doesn't happen in Hong Kong, Taiwan nor mainland China now.  Yet this myth still linger on, in particular among non-Chinese, or those Chinese who are still nostalgic about a mythical China, with hidden treasures and profound secret to be dug with eagerness.  In particular, in the field of traditional Chinese medicine, and internal practice like internal martial arts, chi kung and meditation.  And in a free market, whenever there is a buyer there will always be a seller, there will always be Dr. Lims of this world to satisfy these people's demand.

Parkinson' Law

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