First law of worker entropy

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The anthropology of the office™


The JC puts on his pith-helmet, grabs his butterfly net and a rucksack full of marmalade sandwiches, and heads into the concrete jungle

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The JC’s first law of worker entropy (also known as the “meeting paradox”):

(i) The probability of a meeting[1] starting on time can never be 100%;
(ii) As the number of scheduled participants increases, that probability tends to zero.
(iii) The more participants there are the more retarded the starting time (and content) of the meeting will be;

As a consequence of these axioms there is an upper bound on the total number of people possible in a viable meeting of a given duration.

This is because the distribution of arrival times to the meeting is asymmetrically distributed at or past the scheduled start time. No one[2] arrives early, some people arrive late, and experienced meeting participants know of this asymmetric distribution and therefore time their own arrival to the expected functional starting time of the meeting, which in turn further retards that average start time.

The functional starting time of a meeting is, thus not a constant but a variable, proportional to its intended population, but conditioned by the cultural disposition of its members. A meeting in Switzerland will start on time regardless of how many attendees are expected due to the overwhelming power of früheankunftfreude, whose effects are barely felt in London.

As with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, there are logical indeterminacies involved with congregating in a business environment. these have led to a recent extension of the JC’s first law, thus:

A meeting with a definite justification has only an approximate probability of actually taking place, whereas the point of a meeting which is certain to go ahead can only be explained in a vague and probabilistic fashion, using words like “well...,” and “sort of” and “to be honest —”

Since, per Heisenberg, existence and justification cannot be simultaneously determined, it leads to the inevitable conclusion that a meeting that one is presently attending — that is, one that definitely, right now, exists — can only have, at best, an indeterminate point, whereas the sort of meeting one would like to have — one which solves perennial problems, achieves useful things quickly, simply and effectively, and which imbues its attendee with a sense of vitality, vigour and purpose — those kinds of meetings cannot be certain to happen at all and, if they do happen, are likely to be highjacked for some ulterior, indeterminately consequential purpose.

See also

References

  1. At any rate, a meeting containing more than one person — a single person meeting, of course, ought not, in a sensible mind count, at least since René Descartesoccursum ergo es — proved a meeting in any meaningful sense. It is like the prime number of meetings.
  2. Outside the German-speaking countries: Peculiar cultural factors (particularly späteankunftschande and früheankunftfreude) are at work here which can skew the calculation, but do not displace the general thrust of the theory.