Cyril Northcote Parkinson. July 30, 1909 – March 9, 1993. British historian, political theorist and writer, author of satirical works on business, administration and political science issues. Became world famous as the author of Parkinson's law.


Life and Work:

1. Modern world knows two people named Parkinson. One of them is James Parkinson, a famous doctor, who described trembling palsy back in the early XIX century, a disease now known as parkinsonism. And the other one is Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a historian, political theorist and writer, a serious scientist, who nevertheless became famous for his satirical laws of management, to which his name got firmly glued.


2. Cyril Northcote Parkinson was born on the 30th of July, 1909, in the English county of Durham, in an art teacher's family.


3. He studied history at Cambridge and received his doctor’s degree at London's Royal College. His further biography includes military service during World War II and work as a teacher at the University of Liverpool. There, he intended to create a history center, where he wanted to collect materials about England's rich marine and trade traditions. But post-war Britain did not care much about history.


4. Parkinson's biographers state that his works on the history of trade, navigation and political science are still relevant. Scientists believe that Parkinson's works brilliantly describe the influence of political and economic factors, social and cultural differences and technical achievements on early development of international trade.


5. Just like Kipling, Parkinson wrote about the West and the East: in his book East and West, he explored world trade on the background of world history. To cut it short, Parkinson's contribution to science as a historian is not in question. Nevertheless, he is most remembered for his initially half-serious law of administration.


6. It was a lucky circumstance: in 1950, Parkinson went to work in Singapore as a history teacher at the University of Malaya. At that time, this British colony was preparing to become an independent state. New organizations had to be established, and Parkinson soon found himself to be a member of 32 working committees. The experience of work within these committees led Parkinson to the discovery of his famed law.


7. In 1957, the scholar published a book called Parkinson's Law. The law sounded approximately as follows: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In the first place, the law is true for the work of different civil servants, and so, in 1968, Parkinson ended up altering the wording to make it reach unprecedented perfection, “The number of civil servants grows regardless of the scope of work.”


8. According to Parkinson, the law has two driving forces: firstly, an official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; secondly, officials make work for each other. At that, Parkinson noted that the overall number of bureaucrats grows by five to seven percent a year irrespective of any variation in the amount of work to be done.


9. To measure the weight of an official, Parkinson advised not too seriously to count how many doors lead to him, how many assistants and telephones he has, and add the height of pile on his carpet. Parkinson also suggested a criterion of effectiveness of an administrative body. He introduced a coefficient of uselessness of a committee – the number of members, starting from which the committee stops working completely.


10. Parkinson drew a formula to count this coefficient. He used it, and his result was: the coefficient of uselessness was between 19.9 and 22.4. The decimal points, according to the scholar, meant partial presence, that is, those who stay for a while and then leave.


11. The Parkinson's Law book was phenomenally successful. Parkinson started to receive invitations to lecture at educational institutions of Great Britain and the USA, up to Harvard and Berkeley. His academic achievements were noted: in 1974, he was awarded the Honorary Doctor's degree in Law of the University of Maryland, and in 1976 – the Honorary Doctor's degree of Philology of Troy University, Alabama.


12. After the first law, Parkinson formulated the second one, which goes as follows: “Expenditures rise to meet income.” And the third one, which claims: “Growth leads to complexity, complexity to decay.”


13. One of Parkinson's books contains the wording of Mrs. Parkinson's law: “Heat produced by pressure expands to fill the mind available, from which it can pass only to a cooler mind.”


14. Which Mrs. Parkinson could help to formulate this law? Evidently, the second wife of Cyril Northcote Parkinson, Elizabeth Ann Fry, who he married in 1952. He married his first wife during the war, but they did not live long together; and he met his third wife in the decline of years, in 1985.


15. Retired Parkinson settled on the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, and continued scientific and literary work. The mischief did not stop jesting: in 1970, he published a historical mystification named The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower, which continued a well-known cycle of writer Cecil Forester. Researchers did not believe in the existence of Forester's character, while Parkinson managed to trick them: registrars of the National Maritime Museum got tired of historians looking for papers proving the existence of entirely fictional Hornblower, a Royal Fleet Admiral from Nelson's epoch.


16. You might possibly find another Parkinson's formula useful: a man's age, divided in two, plus seven years. This, in his opinion, is the optimal age of the wife.