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Parkinson's Law in Masonry

by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA

"A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry"
"You get out of it what you put into it."
- Anonymous

"There is nothing more unproductive than to build something efficiently
that should not have been built at all."

- Bryce's Law

"Parkinson's Law" was devised by C. Northcote Parkinson, noted British historian and author. His original book, "Parkinson's Law: The Pursuit of Progress," was introduced in 1958 and was a top-selling management book for a number of years (it is still sold today). The book was based on his experience with the British Civil Service. Among his key observation's was that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Basically, he suggested people make work in order to rationalize their employment. Consequently, managers create bureaucracies and superfluous work to justify their existence, not because it is really needed (aka, the "making mountains out of mole hills" phenomenon). As an aside, CEO's clearly understood Parkinson's Law, which became the driving force behind the flattening of corporations during the 1990's.
We see this same phenomenon occurring in Freemasonry, particularly in our Stated Communications and in the general operation of the fraternity. For example, in a Stated meeting we invent routines to fill the time. This becomes somewhat habit forming and we continue to say the same tired things over and over again, thereby putting the Craft to sleep. Administratively, we manage membership records and finances using techniques from a bygone era. Our rationale for doing so is typically, "That's the way it has always been done." Is it possible that Freemasons can no longer innovate? Let's hope not.

In my consulting practice, I preach a simple concept, "Productivity = Effectiveness X Efficiency." Whereas efficiency addresses the speed and accuracy by which we perform a task, effectiveness addresses the necessity of the task itself. Here's another way of thinking of it: Effectiveness asks "Are we doing the right things?" and Efficiency asks "Are we doing things right?" Let me give you an example; on an assembly line, we may elect to use industrial robots to perform a weld (which is a very "efficient" means for performing the task), but if we are performing the weld at the wrong place or at the wrong time ("effectiveness") it is certainly counterproductive.

In Freemasonry, there is little emphasis on effectiveness or efficiency, just Parkinson's Law. To illustrate, our degree work, lectures, and charges are certainly important, but are there better ways to teach these lessons? After you have gone through a degree, your mind is full of thoughts and ideas in terms of what you have just experienced. You then have to sit through a lecture and charge which teaches some important lessons. Unfortunately, you tend to be overwhelmed by the amount of content and do not really absorb the concepts and principles (I call this "buffer overload"). A few years ago the Grand Lodge of Ohio put their lectures on a DVD which I thought was a rather imaginative way of conveying the information in a professional manner. Masonic purists have a problem with this and prefer the tradition method of lecturing. I ask what is more important: the message or how it is presented? To me, it's the message. Maybe a DVD is a good way of presenting the ma terial and maybe it's not, but it shows some initiative in terms of presenting the material in an effective and efficient manner.

Administratively, Lodges have been using paper logs and journals for a number of years. True, many Lodges have started to use the computer to help in this regard, but there are still many more Lodges using manual methods to handle these tasks simply because, "That's the way it has always been done."

I am certainly not suggesting we turn Freemasonry on its ear in terms of how we implement it, but I would suggest we routinely challenge the status quo in order to make progress (which doesn't exactly endear me to traditionalist Masons). Nonetheless, I encourage all of us to reexamine the "effectiveness" and "efficiency" issues. In many cases, we have been doing things wrong so long, we think it is right. Instead, I ask "Are we really doing the right things?" and "Are we really doing things right?"

Keep the Faith.

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following: 

Article reprinted with permission of the author.