The term bike shed comes from an example of a company engaging in a relatively trivial and unimportant discussion to develop a storage area for the company’s bicycles. Since we love to voice our opinions, and we hate being wrong, it seems reasonable to assume that we love to voice our opinions on things that we can't be wrong about. This is bikeshedding. Here are the top six reason why you may have argued over the color of a bike shed recently.
1. Bike Sheds allow you to voice your opinion
Bike sheds are the opposite of dogmatism. Instead of being certain of an idea (as in dogmatism), you can be certain that no one is certain about how to implement that idea. Since no one is right within a bike shed, it is notoriously difficult to prove someone wrong. This allows you to be as loud and obnoxious with your opinion as you want since you have very little responsibility for things that are ‘just your opinion’.
2. Bike Sheds allow you to increase your reputation via Fingerprinting
When your opinion and support for an idea meets little resistance, it allows you to place your mark on ideas. If you do this right, and include a decent amount of plausible deniability, you can have your reputational cake and eat it too. Before you know it, you’ll be taking credit for other people’s accomplishments and distancing yourself from failures with the best of the politicians.
3. Bike Sheds help you to win arguments
If anyone says that you are wrong about a subject, and the subject turns out to be a bike shed, they are wrong for telling you that you are wrong.
4. Bike Sheds make you feel smart
If you are long winded and like to hear yourself speak, a bike shed allows you to wax eloquent in front of your friends. Eloquent, unchecked speech is mistaken for insight all the time.
5. Bike Sheds allow you to control people
Since you now know how to win arguments by bike shedding, you can use that to increase your reputation to the point where you can control people. This may take the form of becoming an architecture astronaut of that which can’t be measured or using intellectual violence to control the meeting.
6. Bike Sheds let you avoid the blame game
Responsibility sucks. Failure sucks. Failure + responsibility really sucks. If you can’t really fail (because there is no way to measure who is right) and you can’t be held responsible (because you merely voiced your opinion so you didn’t force anyone to believe what you said), then you have nothing to worry about when the game is up.
To read more about bike sheds, take a look at the On Bike Sheds and Experts paper