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Parkinson's Law

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Parkinson's Law Hardcover C.NorthcoteParkinson BuccaneerBooks

112 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1957

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About the author

C. Northcote Parkinson

109 books43 followers
Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a naval historian and author of some sixty books. He was educated at Cambridge, and went on to teach in Malaya, and in the United States at Harvard and in Illinois.

He was an important scholar in the field of public administration.

His most famous work is Parkinson’s Law, or The Pursuit of Progress.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 142 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,891 followers
July 16, 2021
Well I followed Ted's recommendation in his review and when I came across a secondhand copy of Parkinson's Law I grabbed it.

Unnaturally I had heard of Parkinson's law, that work expands to fill the time available for it, before I read Ted's review, but then I think, and I am sure that I think wrongly, that everybody has heard of that one. I had also come across his other finding about the point of vanishing interest - that the amount of time spent discussing a financial decision is in inverse proportion to the amount of money involved. Reading I was pretty sure that I had come across bits and pieces of the book recycled in other contexts, it is that kind of a book - wise and funny and near proverbial.

The book is a series of short chapters, some maybe even all had a prior life as magazine articles before being called up to stand shoulder to shoulder in a little book . All of these deal with a particular idea, sometimes well illustrated from history - for example the essay on personal selection beings with a comparison between traditional, ie English and Chinese methods of recruitment. The traditional English interview style is illustrated by a young man applying to join the Royal Navy, the panel ask him who he is related to and he explains "Admiral Parker is my uncle, My father is Captain Foley , my grandfather Commodore Foley, My mother's father was Admiral Hardy, Commander Hardy is my uncle. My eldest brother is a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, my next brother is a cadet at Dartmouth, and my youngest brother wears a sailor suit." "Ah!" the senior Admiral would say. "And what made you think of joining the Navy?" (p23). Parkinson then contrasts this with the Chinese method of competitive examinations outlining would the concept was introduced to Europe and the commissions which made it the principal method of selection to the British civil service before pointing out that the great weakness was that there was no guarantee that the candidate would be able to write examination grade Greek and Latin poetry once ensconced in public office, perhaps particularly not in a crisis situation. The answer to the problem of candidate selection, in Parkinson's view, is to write the initial advertisement in such a way so that only the ideal candidate ever applies - but for the full explanation of this you are best off reading the book yourself and not relying on my, probably unreliable, account.

Other gems are an analysis of working life. Analysis proves, Parkinson asserts, that work weariness sets in at Retirement minus three years irrespective of the date of retirement and the duration of service. However the principal problem is that the any person holding a senior role needs to be got rid of fifteen years before their retirement date to avoid their probable successor becoming unfit due to fifteen years of frustration, jealousy, resignation and oblivion . The answer is foreign travel. A judicious package of near continuous conferences in different corners of the world coupled with form filling will drive anybody into retirement - however you do have to be careful with this method as it can result in death.

There's a lovely piece on how a fine and well appointed building is a sign of a business that has reached stagnation. Any organisation that is growing and successful, Parkinson points out, is too busy to have the capacity to spare to sorting it self out a decent building, instead it is going to have makeshift offices in corridors accessed via cellars while the main reception will be adjacent to a back staircase. This essay is illustrated by a wealth of examples of organisations whose decline correlates neatly with moving into a swanky, purpose built, new building.

To the very young, to school-teachers, as also to those who compile textbooks about constitutional history, politics, and current affairs the world is more or less a rational place. They visualise the election of representatives, freely chosen from among those the people trust. They picture the progress by which the wisest and best of these become ministers of state. They imagine how captains of industry, freely elected by shareholders, chose for managerial responsibility those who have proved their ability in a humbler role. Books exist in which assumptions such as these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous. Solemn conclaves of the wise and the good are mere figments of the teacher's mind. It is salutary, therefore, if an occasional warning is uttered on this subject. Heaven forbid that students should cease to read books on the science of public or business administration - provided only that these works are classified as fiction. Placed between the novels of Rider Haggard and H.G. Wells, intermingled with volumes about ape men and space ships, these textbooks could harm no one" (p.9)
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
January 30, 2018
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

For a more complete, and very enjoyable review, see Jan-Maat's: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

The above, Parkinson's law, and many corollaries, examples, and observed "proofs" of the law, are the topics addressed in this book by the originator of the law, C. Northcote Parkinson. Parkinson was a British Naval historian, who published his original version of this book as a much briefer essay in The Economist. One surely has no trouble seeing where the dictum would come from, given the author's familiarity with a branch of the armed forces.

A very funny book, and a quick read. If you're a little on the cynical side, and ever run into it at a book sale or used book store, you might want to pick it up.

I can't check it out, since the copy I read has been returned to the friend who loaned it to me, but as I recall it was a little hard to decide in some places whether the author was totally serious or was just being humorous. Likewise, whether the "experiences" he was relating had really been experienced. That is, whether the work was fiction, non-fiction, or a bit of both.

The Wiki piece on Parkinson says "Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly (my emphasis) scientific observations supporting his law." It is the mathematical formulations, and the supposed evidence for them, that I found a bit much, though still very humorous.

By the way, Wiki also notes an extremely useful (for all procrastinators) corollary to Parkinson's law, called the Stock–Sanford corollary:

If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.

This is a bit of wisdom that all of us can benefit from, in today's 24-7-365 telephone number world.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Previous review: On Native Grounds
Random review: The First Man in Rome
Next review: Walking the Black Cat

Previous library review: World Treasury of Science Fiction
Next library review: YUGE! Doonesbury on Trump
Profile Image for Adam .
58 reviews
December 23, 2007
Parkinson's Law briefly stated is that 'work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.' If it doesn't seem that an entire book could be written about this thesis then you haven't encountered the imaginative genius and the stinging comic wit of C. Northcote Parkinson. He is able to use this little insight as an analytic tool to expose much of what is wrong with organizations and why much in both business and government seems at odds with common sense. For example, why the British Colonial Office has grown in number of employees as the actual number of colonies declined - so that it employed more people when the number of colonies had been reduced to zero than when they were at their highest number. Witty, brilliant and always right on the money, Parkinson can make what should be deadly dull - a description of bureaucracy - into a delightful excursion through the halls of pompus human folly. Really great stuff. This book is a classic and can be read and reread with great pleasure.
Profile Image for Gorab.
663 reviews108 followers
March 31, 2021
This is a must read for a funny take on corporate world!
Cold blooded sharp punches had my guts out more than a couple of times, while I was still contemplating whether or not the author was serious.

Had heard of only Parkinson's law - i.e. - "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". There are 9 more essays other than this, all equally good.

Highly recommended for a light and funny read.
Profile Image for Emiliya Bozhilova.
1,366 reviews226 followers
July 17, 2022
”Работата се увеличава дотолкова, доколкото да запълни времето, предоставено за извършването ѝ.”

Много британско остроумие и сатира от самия автор на законите на Паркинсон, който освен всичко друго, си е бил и съвсем истински професор. А осмените бъгове са си реални.

“1. „Чиновникът желае да умножава подчинените си, а не съперниците си.“
2. „Чиновниците си създават работа един н�� друг.”

“времето, изразходвано за обсъждане на всяка точка от финансовите доклади, е обратнопропорционално на величината на сумата, посочена в тях.“.

Profile Image for Stanley.
95 reviews3 followers
July 10, 2014
There's a reason those bloggers on time management still invoke Parkinson's Law 55 years after he coined the term. Yet there's more to the law than the version we hear so often in contemporary culture. His other essays are just as insightful, especially when explaining why institutions behave the way they do.
Profile Image for Meem Arafat Manab.
371 reviews162 followers
June 15, 2017
This is a perfect blend of humour and management. Should have been widely-read, perhaps was, but this book is so old, even my copy dates back to 1965. I don't think it is in reprint any more.

Which is kind of sad, for a book that explains how every cocktail party has a spiral in its midst.
39 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2020
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Cyril Northcote Parkinsons mest kjente bok, en essaysamling fra 1957, er kort, lettlest, fysisk vakker og til tider hysterisk morsom. Den forsøker å forklare alle organisasjoners tilsynelatende fullstendige manglende evne til selvregulering

Han påpeker den samtidige økningen i mengden offiserer og nedgangen i antallet skip og annet personell i den britiske marinen, "providing (as was remarked) a magnificent navy on land". Den går inn i den litt obskure vitenskapen comitology, om hvordan komiteer og kabinetter har en lei tendens til alltid å øke i størrelse, til punktet hvor den handlingslammede komiteen kollapser under sin egen vekt. Om hvorfor mennesker på et cocktailparty, gitt noen enkle premisser, kommer til å bevege seg rundt langs rommets vegger med klokken, og om hvordan selskapets viktigste person er å finne på koordinaten E7 ved tiden H+75 til H+90. Ellers gir den tips om hvordan man umerkelig kan fremtvinge tidlig pensjon hos en organisasjons leder før evnene svinner hen til et stadie der lederen gjør mer skade enn gagn. Og om hvordan den perfekte stillingsannonse ser ut, så man som arbeidsgiver er garantert ett enkelt svar. Et svar som til gjengjeld er garantert å være den eneste, beste, mest perfekte søker som finnes.

Boken er god samfunnskritisk satire. Den har gode poenger, og de fleste lesere vil nok gjenkjenne seg selv eller dagens samfunnsdebatt på et tidspunkt, på tross av de svært pedagogiske, men ekstreme eksemplene som brukes.
Profile Image for Петър Стойков.
Author 2 books282 followers
June 15, 2022
Държавната администрация и политиката по управление на държавата биват бистрени по телевизията всеки ден, но много малко се знае за вътрешния начин, по който учрежденията и правенето на политика работят.

Самите държавни учреждения са един свой си свят на бюрокрация, движещи се по собствени закони и не са (като примерно фирмите) ограничени от задължението да допринасят измерима полза или не. Напротив - колкото техни проекти да се провалят, те биват награждавани с още пари. Вижте за пример... всяка държавна програма.

Политиката също е, иронично, скрита от нас - какво говорят самите политици публично често никак не е свързано с това какво и как говорят помежду си. "Правенето на политика" се случва в уединени кабинети, на четири очи или на закрити срещи.

Сирил Паркинсън се е заел с голяма доза хумор и ирония да хвърли малко светлина върху това как работят държавните институции и политиката отвътре. На два пъти му се е получило.

Книгата се състои от няколко есета, всяко на различна тема. От тях най-известно е първото, относно как и защо държавната администрация постоянно се увеличава на брой, даже работата й да намалява. То е и най-истинско и забавно. Другото есе, заслужаващо внимание е за работата на комисиите: смешно-тъжната реалност на "колективното" вземане на решения във всякакви комитети, комисии, бордове.
50 reviews4 followers
May 8, 2012
How are British and French laws dictated largely by the layout of the seats in the legislature? Why can you easily get approval for the ten million dollar nuclear power plant from the same committee that will never approve the five hundred dollar bike shed? Why does an institution lose all relevance by the time it moves into a perfect building?

With great dry whit, Parkinson gives us clear intuitions for the real forces that dictate how large bureaucracies operate. I felt instantly wiser and more cynical. I laughed out loud on the subway. I imagined myself with a handlebar mustache and a three piece suit, rolling my eyes at the idiosyncrasies of the clerks at the British Consulate.
Profile Image for Vicki.
535 reviews
July 20, 2009
Love and absolutely agree with the conclusion that work expands to fill the time available, but this is a really old book and contains paragraphs and paragraphs of dry information.
Profile Image for Anita.
219 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2015
barring moments of cute 1950s racism, a v sarcastic lil british manual on management consulting
13 reviews
March 12, 2020
“To the very young, to school teachers and also to those who compile textbooks about constitutional history, politics, and current affairs, the world is a more or less rational place...To those, on the other hand, with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous.” pvii.
So begins one of my favourite passages of the 1962 volume Parkinson’s Law. Witty and satirical it postulates formulas that represent the feeble realities of politics, organisations and employment cultures. Parkinson’s scenarios are as relatable today as they must have been when first appearing in publications from The Economist, Harper's Magazine and The Reporter, seventy odd years ago.
I laughed out loud as his essays transported to my mind memories of my time as an activist pursuing student government and pushing national policy. Oh the determination of the young!
With amusing accuracy Parkinsons describes many typical realities of meetings, committees and politics. It entertained me as a former student of politics and an enthusiastic enforcer of Robert’s rules of order.
The primary detractor of this work is simply that it is so old. This becomes painfully obvious in his examples, which he uses well and seamlessly to facilitate his arguments while making ludicrous -although he assures us, mathematically accurate, (perhaps genius) formulas that include intrinsic elements of necessary consideration such as the blood pressure of the three oldest members of a board shortly prior to a meeting (although I did note that he failed to quantify the exact time prior to the meeting this should be measured, and thus I feel a particular lack without due consideration of this algorithm. I mean, was it immediately at the door prior to entering the meeting room, after reading the re-revised agenda and were refreshments served. I always find a meeting begins with much less pressure if everyone is in possession of a tea cup (regardless if one partakes of tea or not). But I digress, my intended point was that Parkinson’s treatise shows its age by examples such as comparisons between the British pound Sterling and the Australian pound- a currency that was out of circulation before my birth (a quick google reveals Australia went to dollars in 1966, almost a decade and a half before I was born- As a side note, I yesterday read you shouldn’t put a date on anything on your resume older than 15 years so as not to age yourself.) .
Also falling shorter than I expect it did at the time of publication, was the chapter on cocktail parties. Apparently, prior to the sixties civil servants would wear black suits to these functions, while all others would wear white suits. (to his credit, Parkinson did provide the reader with a helpful reminder of the history of the custom) Clearly this account would need reexamining for our time, altho I am convinced that the findings of this particular chapter still remain accurate today regardless of the particular attire of the formerly suited gentleman, or indeed lady (if we can set aside any debate regarding the gender and feminist can of worms either of those labels may threaten to open). Although, possibly my favourite chapter, unfortunately, dear reader I am forbidden by ethical considerations to disclose the specific information revealed therewith, In Parkinson’s own words, “Students will realise that the validity of this rule depend upon its not being generally known. The contents of this chapter should therefore be treated as confidential and kept strictly under lock and key… members of the general public are not on any account to read it.” (which conveniently relieves me of the tedious duty of a summary based book report- that I am afraid I just don’t find motivates me to the pen- or keyboard either to be frank.)
Without regard to the distraction of googling (obscure at least to my younger mind) 1960’s common knowledge, this was a quick and amusing read (113 pages with cartoon illustrations by Robert C. Osborne).
With all the unfortunately inapplicable genius formulas in this book I was confronted with my own particular problem that some of you might relate- that of book storage. I am at a considerable disadvantage in the mathematics department to successfully construct the appropriate formula to solve the equation for how to decide what to do with a book once one has finished reading it. Last week I pondered out loud (which tends to lend artificiality and purpose to these kinds of matters- and an uncomfortable nagging feeling that one should possibly do something- primarily though self imposed guilt) that this reading challenge would be a wonderful opportunity for me to reexamine the place of books on my bookshelf. An unread book, that one has chosen themselves, or has been given as a gift (which is possibly worse), holds value because of its potential for reading- giving merit to the space it takes up both in linear centimeters (which can easily be demonstrated on a ruler to American’s not familiar with the metric system and ounces -because I can’t fathom how to explain weight conversions without doing my head in, even I know when something is a losing battle). On the other hand, a book that one has read quickly becomes a dilemma, The act of disclosing the contents of a book should in theory relieve one of the need or desire to keep it. Yet, as we know this is not necessarily true unless it is simply awful or a textbook for a mandatory but thoroughly boring class you thankfully passed.
Profile Image for Avi Singh.
41 reviews10 followers
July 18, 2021
I'm rating it five stars because, even decades after its publication, the book is hilarious. While the book never attempts to be too serious, it does contain a number of interesting insights on the behavior of individuals inside organizations (especially the first essay, also titled "Parkinson's Law").

Some of the essays that I particularly enjoyed were:
Parkinson's Law
The Will of the People
High Finance
The Short List
Profile Image for Jim Viscusi.
4 reviews
March 29, 2012
Enjoying! A series of short essays on management theory. Parkinson's Law summarizes to me (at the moment) as work expends to fill the time allotted regardless of importance. It's currently relevant to me as I try to sort out how much time to allocate to a project
Profile Image for iGravity™.
17 reviews5 followers
April 16, 2012
Very interesting modelling of social behaviour. Who would have thought there is a mathematical approach to finding the most important person (or group of people) in a party based solely on time and floor-space? But there is. Check the book out.
Profile Image for Jerry Haigh.
52 reviews8 followers
February 13, 2012
Every aspiring bureaucrat should be required to read, and learn, and UNDERSTAND this book
Profile Image for Parttime .
20 reviews
September 30, 2012
This guy knows of what he speaks. Should be required reading every year in the business and MBA programs.
Profile Image for 5H3MS.
229 reviews
November 5, 2015
Ну что тут еще сказать. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
Profile Image for Caleb Ross.
Author 38 books188 followers
May 18, 2018
Parkinson's Law is a collection of satirical essays by C. Northcote Parkinson, in the vein of Jonathan Swift or even Mark Twain in that its power comes from the juxtaposition of the perceived self-importance of the language used with the absurdity of the ideas. What makes Parkinson’s Law different, when compared to something like Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” is that Parkinson offers observations rather than solutions. With observations--such as “Short List, or Principles of Selection” where Parkinson maps out his observed (and implied, suggested) logic for choosing employees--Parkinson lures the reader into complacency, acceptance, and eventual agreement by referencing studies, situations, historical events, etc that the reader almost surely isn’t aware of. For all the reader knows, Parkinson is using lies to justify his points. This approach, hilariously, is exactly the sort of agreement solely to avoid exposing our ignorance that Parkinson satirizes in the essay “High Finance, or The Point of Vanishing Interest.” I love it!

Perhaps what makes Parkinson’s brand of satire unique (note: I’m not a satire expert, so I could be wrong) is that his observations have come to be used legitimately in discussions of administration. The most well known observation, Parkinson’s Law, essentially states that the time spent on work will expand to the time allowed for work. Lacking the context of its satirical origins, many could take Parkinson’s Law as a defacto inevitability and perhaps look down upon all administration as wasteful. This is dangerous. Parkinson--as satirists often do--simply wants to warn the reader of dangerous extremes while exposing us to the seeds of those dangerous extremes. Comedians exaggerate to make a point. Keep that in mind, and you’ll love this book as much as I did.

* * *

If you read deeper into Parkinson’s work, you soon discover that he is not making a general claim on how humans procrastinate. He is, instead, summarizing a rather rigorous statistical proof he devised to explain observations of a very specific context: the British Civil Service. Parkinson, it turns out, was intrigued by the following paradox: the number of people employed in the British Colonial Office bureaucracy increased even as the British Empire imploded — an event that decreased the amount of work available.

Parkinson’s Law is not a catch phrase, but instead a statistical model devised by Professor Parkinson to describe the factors that control the growth of bureaucracy. It’s central conclusion: growth is independent of the amount of work to be done.

(Cal Newport)
Profile Image for Matthias.
32 reviews
December 2, 2018
Read the full review on excellentbookreviews.com

Disclaimer: I have read the German version of this book, which states that the original was published in 1980 as Parkinson: The Law by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. There seem to be different versions around.

In the 1950s, C. Northcote Parkinson published his famous “law”, a half serious and half sarcastic description of the growth of bureaucracy. He found that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, meaning that the amount of work to accomplish depends on the amount of time that can be spent to handle it, not on the complexity of that task. He explained this with human nature to preferably share work with two underlings instead of one equal partner. However, as administrators supposedly feel the need to double-check their employee’s work and have the last say, the work burden is not, in fact, reduced. That way the initial problem of work overload (due to incompetence, laziness or actual overload) is solved, but the solution creates an equal amount of new work.

Parkinson stated that an administration will show a steady growth of app. 5.5% per year, and that the number of yearly hires can be calculated using the following equation:

123 reviews
January 24, 2021
A hilarious book on the typical flaws of human organizations, from public institutions to private companies. It’s all quite tongue in cheek, and you never really know how serious the author is, alternating rather believable principles with mad advice that is intentionally misleading. But it’s a short and delightful read for anyone who has spent time observing the madness of organizations.

Parkinson’s law is the first and most well known chapter of the pack, explaining how work will expand to fill the time available to do it. But there are a few other precious gems, such as The Short List on how to write job descriptions so appalling that only one candidate will apply, thus limiting the difficulty of choosing the right man for the job. There is also the law of constant growth of administrative staff in organizations, regardless of the actual needs of the underlying business or activity. And finally I really liked Pension Point, describing the complex choice of timing on when to retire, as well as sound advice on how to push someone to retirement rather gracefully.
4 reviews
May 31, 2022
I was diagnosed 2 years ago at age 63. Symptoms were tremor in right leg, loss of handwriting ability,My normally beautiful cursive writing was now small cramped printing and soft voice. I also had difficulty rising from a seated position and have balance issues. I started out taking only Azilect, then Mirapex, and then Sinemet. Several months ago I started falling frequently, hence the reason for Sinemet. During the summer of 2021, I was introduced to Health Herbs Clinic and their effective Parkinson’s herbal protocol. This protocol relieved symptoms significantly, even better than the medications I was given. Visit www . healthherbsclinic . com. After First month on treatment, my tremors mysterious stopped, had improvement walking. After I completed the treatment, all symptoms were gone. I live a more productive life. I was fortunate to have the loving support of my husband and family. I make it a point to appreciate every day!
Profile Image for Michael David.
Author 2 books71 followers
November 15, 2022
Through vignettes of insight and sarcasm, Parkinson's Law adequately describes the state of current Philippine politics. The book is as old as my mother, but Filipinos never learn.

"We find everywhere a type of organization in which the higher officials are plodding and dull, those less senior are active only in intrigue against each other, and the junior men are frustrated or frivolous.

"The first sign of danger is represented by the appearance in the organization's hierarchy of an individual who combines in himself a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy.

"The presence of this substance can be safely inferred from the actions of any individual who, having failed to make anything of his own department, tries constantly to interfere with other departments."

Parkinson's Law has foretold the current state of Philippine politics, but joke's on us because we don't read.
Profile Image for Lenny Husen.
949 reviews20 followers
November 16, 2019
This is a quirky fun little gem of a book, very tongue-in-cheek.
Belongs on the shelf next to Class by Paul Fussell or The House of God, by Samuel Shem.
Parkinson's Law is "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion."
He goes on to discuss other "Laws" or Observations, such as the optimal number for a Committee and why (5 people and certainly no more than 9), the disease known as Injelititis (Incompetence and Jealousy precluding the promotion of potentially good leaders), How Congress works or The House of Commons as far as getting the Undecided to vote your way, the Law that more success will occur in shitty offices than in magnificent ones, and the age by which you are going to be promoted --after that, you are a failure apparently.
Most of these have much truth to them and are reasonably clever and amusing, without being terribly comforting.
23 reviews3 followers
October 1, 2020
Great read on administration and management.
I came across this book via the term "Bike Shedding".

That it largely remains relevant today too, is an amazing testament to the acute observations of the writer. The satirical format of the essays make it a fun read.

Beware, realising the extent to which this is applicable to your work organisation can potentially make you cynical (assuming that you are not there already). There is hope and some comfort in knowing that a lot of it is general human behaviour.

Favourite highlights:

1) Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

2) The thing to be done swells in importance and complexity in a direct ratio with the time to be spent.

3) Law of Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.
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