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Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup

The more people there are working on something, the less likely they are to succeed.

Basically, this rule is just that: the more people that attempt something, the less competent they become at accomplishing said task. Inversely, ventures made solo, especially in the case of Last of His Kind on a mission, are almost sure to succeed (unless there's An Aesop about teamwork).

A good example is in Superhero stories, wherein a singular villain may be a match for an entire team of superheroes, but if said villain joins a group of villains, suddenly they lose to just one of them. Similarly, a villain may be taking down entire groups of superheroes, but when one hero steps out to take them on alone, watch out. Of course, villain team-ups are also prone to a different problem entirely.

May be Truth in Television-sometimes too many people working on a project results in nothing getting done, possibly because everyone thinks someone else will do it, or because of conflicts over direction (a phenomenon known as Parkinson's Law of Triviality). This can even be seen on Internet forums, where the more people that engage in an argument, the less reasonable the conversation generally becomes (Nazis or otherwise).

This is the super trope of several other rules, notably Conservation of Ninjutsu, which applies this principle to ninjas and other supposedly-elite fighters, and Conservation of Competence, which applies this to intelligence in evil structures. Possibly related to, or even caused by, Sturgeon's Law. Executive Meddling is often a good example of this trope in action. Contrast More Dakka and its related tropes, where more cooks are seen to make the soup better in any case.

Also note that this can specifically be invoked as An Aesop, generally when something straightforward starts to involve too many people and therefore ends up A Simple Plan. As An Aesop, it contrasts well with Stone Soup. In almost all cases, it ends up being a cause of Stop Helping Me!. If the various people/factions are engaged in some sort of opposition to a common enemy, We Are Struggling Together is usually the result, as the people who should be on the same side disagree about details and turn against each other rather than unite.

Not to be confused with the theatre show, Too Many Cooks

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime And Manga 

    Film 
  • The number of writers of a film is often inversely proportional to the quality of the finished product.
  • Played with in State Fair: Melissa refuses Abel's suggestion to sweeten the mincemeat with brandy, so Abel decides to add some without her noticing. After he leaves, Melissa decides to add some brandy herself. Even though the dish ends up having an abnormally high alcohol level, the judges still reward Melissa with a blue ribbon.

    Folklore 
  • In one of Aesop's Fables, a man and his boy are taking a donkey to the marketplace to sell. He passes by several groups of individuals who make criticisms of how he goes about transporting the donkey (e.g., "Look at that selfish man, riding a donkey and making his son walk behind him on foot.") Eventually, he decides to hogtie the donkey and carry it on a pole. But this proves to be the worst idea yet, since the donkey struggles against being tied up, falls into a river, and drowns. The now-donkeyless man goes home, reflecting on how he shouldn't have felt the need to change his practices every time someone made a criticism. The moral of the story: "If you try to please everyone, you may as well kiss your ass goodbye."
  • In a similar Arabic folktale, the father (a bit of a Trickster archetype) wants to teach his son the dangers of relying too much on others' opinions. At the end, when he and his son are carrying the donkey between them, a mob cries that they are insane and they are taken to jail.

    Literature 
  • Piers Anthony once wrote about how a writer, by following the advice of the various magazine editors to whom he submits his story, ends up transforming his story into something entirely different from what it started out as. (Piers Anthony hates editors.)
  • In Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent, this is how the Discworld got the duck-billed platypus, no thanks to a group of temporally-displaced wizards from Unseen University.
    • In The Last Hero, Ventinari deals with this sort of problem in his truly magnificent style; When leaders from hundreds of nations come to Ankh-Morpork to discuss how they're going to stop Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde from blowing up the world, he has them form committees and then locks them in the room. Then, while they're arguing, he takes a few of the people he knows aside and tells them how they're going to save the world.
    • A Roundworld proverb has it that the camel is a horse designed by committee.
      • On the other hand, a horse couldn't do a lot of the things people use camels for, but camels can do almost everything a horse can do besides "look pretty".
  • Used literally in Anne of Avonlea at a dinner party; everyone involved in making the meal adds a little sugar to the peas because they all think no one else will remember to. Result: literal Tastes Like Diabetes.
  • A Little Golden Book featuring Donald Duck had Donald in the studio while the writers are storyboarding his next cartoon. Each of the writers keeps adding in things they think should be in the cartoon (like the nephews and Chip N' Dale) to the point where there is no room for Donald in the cartoon. Donald proceeds to blow his top and start screaming at the writers.
  • In the Redwall book Legend Of Luke, this happens with literal soup.

    Live Action TV 
  • In an episode of 30 Rock, Jack recruits some of the writers to help him come up with a new microwave oven. When all their suggestions are combined he ends up with a Pontiac Aztek.
    • In another episode, when Tracy is even later for rehearsal than usual:
    Liz: How did this happen? I had Grizz call him at eight o'clock this morning and pretend it was eleven.
    Pete: I printed up that fake rehearsal schedule for him saying we were starting at nine instead of noon.
    Kenneth: Oh, and I set all his watches and clocks to say p.m. when it's really a.m.!
    Liz: Oh, boy, we may have overdone it.
    Tracy: [entering] WHAT THE HELL TIME IS IT?
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 would occasionally comment on films with a large number of writers, producers, etc. For example, in Space Mutiny:
    Mike: Passed from editor to editor in a desperate attempt to save it!
  • The point of Extras: Andy's sitcom gets picked up, but he allows the producers' suggestions to turn it from a witty character study and commentary on office life to a cheesy, lowbrow Work Com.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side had one strip with a bunch of scientists arguing with the caption "Another case of too many mad doctors and not enough hunchbacks."
  • There was also a Dilbert strip where this trope is compressed into a proper theory: The combined IQ of any team starts at 100 for one participant, with 5 points deducted for every additional member to the team.
    • Another time it was expressed as equaling the IQ of the dumbest member, divided by the number of members. note 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Sidereals in Exalted tend towards this. It's actually part of the rules that the more people that are present, the stupider their decisions are likely to be. In the backstory this tendency is one of the key reasons the world is now in such a perilous state.

    Web Comics 
  • One future arc strip of Arthur, King of Time and Space had Morgan avoiding helping with an engine problem, citing she hated being the "too manyth" cook.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Insano notes that the shlock 80s fantasy film The Dungeonmaster had seven directorsnote . And yet none of them seem to have stuck around long enough to film an ending; the movie just sort of stops 20 seconds after the climax.
  • Deliberately invoked in Twitch Plays Pokémon. Having 100,000+ people input commands for a game of Pokemon Red. The results are hilarious, having the player walk in weird directions to making really silly decisions (like releasing their starter, for instance).

    Western Animation 
  • Seen on Doug, where the title character tries to make a gravy boat and ends up with something resembling a jet pack crossed with a water gun.
    • The same thing happens when Doug tries to form a band; everyone wants in, and it quickly becomes an unmanageable mess.
  • The Darkwing Duck episode "Comic Book Capers" has Darkwing preparing to pitch a comic book of his fabulous adventures, but he keeps getting called away from his typewriter. Other characters study his pitch while he's away and decide to "improve" it, resulting in the comic book storyline going completely Off the Rails in a Crowning Moment of Funny.
  • In an early episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Edd is counting grains of sugar to add to their energy drinks. He asks Eddy to help him. While Edd is looking away, Eddy adds one full bag of sugar into the energy drink. The end result? The energy drink has tons of sugar in it (unbeknown to Edd), Edd tastes tests it and goes hyper due to sugar rush.
  • Shown in one of the "Aesop and Son" segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In the tale, a bunch of animals cook a stew but won't let a bear eat any of it because he didn't contribute any ingredients. The dimwitted bear brings an undersea mine that was painted yellow mistaking it for a goldfish. The other animals aren't any smarter and also think it's a goldfish. Boom. When Aesop tries to give the aesop "Too many cooks spoil the broth", his son is Comically Missing the Point because the story was about stew instead of broth.
  • A minor example in one episode of Adventures of the Gummi Bears: Cubbi, Sunni, and Tummi have sneaked into Castle Dunwyn in the hopes of using the pressure cooker there to replicate a famous chef's recipe for taffy. This goes wrong early on, when each of them add ingredients to the pot without realizing the others have done so already - all the more since Tummi dumps his ingredients in along with their containers. It's no surprise that the entire endeavor goes explosively wrong in the end.

    Real Life 
  • Related quote: "It's better for a ship to have one bad captain than two good ones."
    • Related is the Bystander Effect, where the more individuals on hand at a crisis, the more likely they are all to stand there and do nothing. An individual who witnesses a catastrophe usually feels a personal obligation to act if they can, or at least scream for help if they cannot. A crowd feels Diffusion of Responsibility and is more likely to stand there.
      • For this reason, from CPR trainees to physicians, responders are generally trained not to ask a crowd for help. They are trained to single out someone who looks half-way responsible and clearly identify them, then put them on the spot to help. "Hey, you, with the glasses in the blue polo shirt. Yes, you. Call 911 right now. Borrow a phone if you have to, but call 911 right now!" works better than standing in front of twenty people shouting, "Someone call 911!"
    • Militaries and first responders to a crisis have (under optimal conditions) a clear chain of command just to avoid this trope. Additionally, a proper chain of command is designed so down to the lowest levels, beheading the organization still leaves it unambiguous who should be in charge.
  • The Jargon File contains the analogous entry for Brooks' Law, which states that "Adding manpower to a late project makes it later", with mathematical justification; dividing a task among N people gets the work done in O(N) time, but actually coordinating that work and getting it merged back into a completed project takes O(N^2) because of duplication, intercommunication problems (two people on a project have one line of communication (A<->B); four people have six), and general laziness (if there's a hundred people on a task, there will be a few who think they don't need to pull their weight).
  • An image macro from The Hangover breaks down the participants in a project into four archetypes: one guy does most of the work and goes insane before the end, one has no clue what he's doing, one does nothing but complain, and the last one shows up only in the final stages but gets credit anyway.
  • Norman Augustine wrote that at one point, the US had 23 different types of military aircraft — 11 of which were produced at the rate of 12 a year or less — with concomitant loss of efficiency. His point was that when the government distributed money for projects, the more projects there were and the less each got, the less likely any of them were to succeed.
    • In another chapter, he notes, "The optimum committee has no members."
      • The average American sitcom has at least a dozen writers behind the scenes. Few of these sitcoms are ever critically praised.

Three Month RuleLaws and FormulasTriang Relations
TontinePlotsToo Smart for Strangers
Crippling OverspecializationStock AesopsLike You Were Dying

alternative title(s): Too Many Cooks; Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth
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