Peter Is Alive And Well

Business is just human nature with dollar signs. As such, there are some truths that remain constant and universal. The Peter Principle, Parkinson’s Law, and the 80/20 Rule have been around a long time with good reason. Human nature seems to be pretty constant. These ideas have been around for forty and fifty years, but what has really changed?

The Peter Principle

In 1969 Canadian academic, Dr Laurence Peter stated that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence and boy did it stick. Peter’s book (written with Raymond Hull) The Peter Principle highlighted the weaknesses of hierarchy in organizations. The Peter Principle states that members of a hierarchy are promoted as long as they work competently, but eventually they will be promoted to a position where they are no longer competent. That becomes the level of incompetence and that’s where they stay.

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Peter was concerned with uncaring entities who would promote individuals beyond their limits despite inevitable damage to their health and happiness. Nah, that never happens anymore. Back in those flower power days, Peter conducted a survey of general practice doctors. He wanted to find out the most common medical complaints among successful patients. These included ulcers, colitis, high blood pressure, alcoholism, obesity, hypertension, insomnia, cardiovascular problems and impotence. Impotence? That one actually turned out to be more of a business opportunity, but that’s another story.

The flip side of the Peter Principle is his idea of super-competent employees. These are the creative, enlightened people who are more likely to be canned than promoted. A leader’s inherent tendency to violate the entrenched hierarchy is exactly what many organizations desperately need but cannot endure.

So what do you say, is Peter still relevant?