The Why #59: Why do we sweat over rubbish like MAFS when there are bigger issues happening in the world?

Hardhat
3 min readMar 9, 2023

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By Dan Monheit 9.3.22

Question submitted by Anna, Burnley

What do you mean rubbish? Marriage is a sacred union and I truly believe that that one guy with the bad tattoos and the woman with the weird smile are made for one another. Okay fine, so maybe I don’t watch Married at First Sight but 1.29 million other Aussies do, which makes this a question worth answering.

I know Anne, 1.29 million people worrying about trashy strangers getting hitched, while the world burns, wars rage, inflation skyrockets and our 2019 tax returns refuse to complete itself.

Maybe MAFS isn’t your thing, but between Love Island, Australian Idol and Survivor, there’s no doubt something is creeping into your workplace debates that really shouldn’t be. What is going on here?

Bike-Shedding

Also known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, Bike-Shedding refers to our tendency to focus on trivial, meaningless issues while ignoring more important ones.

In 1957, a researcher by the name of C. Northcote Parkinson first coined the term when he sat in on a committee meeting to observe how the group spent their time discussing various matters from an agenda. What Parkinson noticed was that the committee spent a disproportionate amount of time deciding what colour the communal bike-shed should be painted compared to the little time they spent deciding on whether they should be setting up an atomic power plant. From here, the term Bike-Shedding was born.

While Bike-Shedding is all too common in group decision-making processes, we can often ‘bike-shed’ ourselves too. Ever started off a spring clean, only to be distracted by the stockpile of knick-knacks you’ve re-discovered in the bottom draw only five minutes in? Or what about spending hours trawling Google images, hunting down the perfect picture for a presentation that you haven’t quite gotten around to writing yet?

Yes, what’s happening with Bronte and Harrison on the latest season of MAFS is important, but your unborn grandchildren will be far happier knowing you’ve completed your Will, just like you’ve been meaning to. The lesson hiding in plain sight? It’s so easy to put off the tricky stuff and instead get caught up with small trivialities that are easy to understand — especially when we’re part of a group.

For marketers leading brands with tricky entry points, look for ways to be more bike-shed than atomic power plant. Simple language, easy options and intuitive ways to personalise can be enough to get people solving the big issues before they even realise it. Providing small, obvious steps to help solve big, complicated problems is another way in, perfectly executed by the likes of Thank You and Who Gives a Crap. For marketers in the business of bike-sheds, just keep doing what you’re doing!

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check why I wrote a book here.

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