wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
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Laurence Peter (1919-1990)Laurence Peter


Canadian management expert (pictured right) famous for the “Peter Principle” (see below).


Key books

The Peter Principle (1969)


The “Peter Principle” says that:

“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence” 

So effective work is only carried out by people who haven’t reached that level yet.


At their level of incompetence, people are not concerned about change and people’s good work but:

  • the status quo.
  • preserving the organization’s rules, rituals and hierarchy.

This causes “Peter’s Inversion”:

“Internal consistency is valued more highly than efficient service”.

Incompetent employees keep happy, because they think they’re competent because of “substitution” (replacing their job’s proper duties with useless tasks they can do).

The best way to be happy is to avoid promotion by “creative incompetence” (appearing to be incompetent by failing in things that don’t matter to your job e.g. dressing untidily).

Reinforce your aversion to promotion by thinking negatively about it.


Key quotes on selection and work

In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties, Peter’s Corollary, directly resulting from The Peter Principle.

Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.


Key quotes on success

The power of negative thinking can help us avoid escalating ourselves to a level of life-incompetence.

Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.



The Peter Pyramid (1986)


The Peter Pyramid shows how hierarchical organizations (or bureaucracies) can rise to their level of incompetence by:

  • making things unnecessarily complex.
  • avoiding innovation and change.
  • valuing internal order, not customer service.
  • attracting bureaucrats who can’t lead or manage effectively.


Key quote on change and structure

Bureaucracies defend the status quo long past the time the quo has lost its status.

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