Thursday, July 7, 2016

How to Make Things Go Right – The Peter Prescription – Book Review


Prescriptions on How To Be Creative Confident and Competent 

Book Review 
Title: The Peter Prescription
Author: Dr. Laurence J. Peter
Published: 1972 (William Morrow)  
A Blissful Retired Life gives me the golden opportunity to dust off my favourite books from my bookshelves  sit in the warm morning sun and re-read these lovely books sipping a hot cup of refreshing tea to warm my insides and stimulate my brain.
I have realized that re-reading good books gives me even greater pleasure.

So that’s what I am going to do for the next few days – browse my bookshelves 
 re-read some of my favourite books  and tell you about them.
During my college days  in the 1970’s  when I was studying for my B. Tech. degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering  I read three non-fiction and non-technical books which had a lasting impact on me.

The first was Parkinson’s Law (written in 1958) by Cyril Northcote Parkinson based on the author’s study of the British Civil Service and the Admiralty.

The other two books were written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter – The Peter Principle (1969) and The Peter Prescription (1972).

These 3 Management Classics greatly influenced my way of looking at life in general and Human Resource (HR) Management issues in particular 
 sometimes with a sense of humor  and I feel that these three books are a must for the bookshelves of every Manager.
Written with incisive wit  Parkinson’s Law is a seminal book on the workings of bureaucracy which is essential reading for any student of Management. 

It is consummate management classic  a masterpiece  which is a “must read” for every manager and management student.
The Peter Principle  a delightful read  provides a superb insight and intriguing study of hierarchiology.

Let me state in brief the Peter Principle:

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

and its corollary:

In time  every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent

If The Peter Principle is Dr. Peter’s seminal pioneering work 
 then The Peter Prescription is his definitive book  a wonderful all-time management classic.
If you have not read ‘The Peter Principle’  do read my review of the book  the previous post in my blog (url: )
Understanding ‘The Peter Principle’ is sine qua non  essential prerequisite reading  before you embark upon ‘The Peter Prescription’.
Whereas both Parkinson’s Law and The Peter Principle formulate and substantiate their respective theories  The Peter Prescription is a philosophical self-help treatise on how to achieve happiness in all aspects of life.

Written in his unique hilarious inimitable style 
 Dr. Peter exhorts us to be creative, confident and competent  by replacing mindless escalation with life-quality improvement. 

The message of the book is in congruence with Eastern (Oriental) Philosophies  which focus on inward enhancement – rather than  outward escalation.
In his introduction Dr. Peter states: 

“Many authors offer answers before they understand the questions…….. I understand the operation of the Peter Principle, and the remedies offered are the product of years of research……… prescriptions will lead to great personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment.”
The book  interspersed liberally with quotations and case studies  comprises three parts.

The first part 
 titled Incompetence Treadmill – explores why conventional solutions not only fail to alleviate the effects of the Peter Principle but explains why these conventional techniques may actually serve to escalate the problems.

His analysis of ‘marital incompetence’ is hilarious.  
A bachelor is a man who looks before he leaps – and then does not leap... Dr. Peter concludes.

With the flattening of hierarchies 
 I wonder whether  in today's world  there still exist any Professional Processionary Puppets – the organization-men.

It would be worthwhile to look dispassionately 
 from a distance  into your own organization for similarities to prototypes adorning bureaucracies of yesteryear  in order to ascertain whether your own organisation is a modern state-of-the-art progressive one  or whether your organisation is a rigid hierarchy bound archaic organization heading for decay.
The meat of the book is in Part Two  titled ‘Protect your Competence’ – which elucidate a total of 25 “prescriptions” on how to remain creative and competent throughout your working and personal life. 

There are two things to aim at in life:
 to get what you want

Second  after you get what you want  to enjoy it

The prescriptions  which are condensed wisdom of the ages  from ancient to modern  guide us on how to achieve this cardinal aim of life. 

“The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness...” Dr. Peter quotes with elan in this delightful book.
Competence is a system-governed factor 

Your competence is as viewed by your bosses.

Like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder  your competence lies in the eyes of your boss... 

And thus  the yardsticks of competence are governed by the HR policies in your organization.
Why is everyone around you so competitive...?

Do the HR policies in your organization encourage competition, rat-race and reward escalationary behaviour 
 and if so  what can you do about it...?

Maybe you can find some answers by exploring the prescriptions.
Let’s have a look at Peter Prescription 3 – The Peter Panorama – which I have used to great effect.

This comprises listing your satisfying activities, joyful experiences, pleasant reminiscences  and after introspection  making a second list of those which are feasible to do regularly  and then make sure you do these satisfying activities whenever feasible.

Enjoyable events begin to crowd out the unpleasant 
 and – you feel happy. 

And  in the extreme  there are prescriptions like utter irrelevance– hilariously effective.
Do read  experiment  and try to imbibe the prescriptions in your professional and personal life, and experience the results for yourself.

 evolve a philosophy of life  fine tune the art of living  concentrate your efforts within your area of competence  and have an improved quality of life consisting of abiding competence and contentment.

If you cannot be happy here and now 
 you can never be happy.
Part Three of the book is written from the management perspective  giving 42 “prescriptions” to Managers to contain and mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle in their domains and manage for competence. 

It views The Peter Principle from the viewpoint of a Human Resource Manager  and assuming the manager himself is not a victim of the Peter Principle and reached his or her level of incompetence  it offers valuable tips in the HR Management  particularly recruitment, promotion and selection.
Obviously  outsourcing wasn’t that prevalent way back then in the 1960s and 1970 otherwise organizations may even have ‘outsourced’ incompetence. 

Isn’t it a brilliant idea to outsource incompetence...? 

Maybe some are doing it already...!
As stated in the introduction  the purpose of The Peter Prescription is to help you explore how you yourself can mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle by avoiding the final placement syndrome  and  as a manager  it tells you how to keep your employees at their appropriate competence levels so that they remain happy and productive – and help achieve mutual optimal benefit.
Dear Reader: First read and understand The Peter Principle

– to your own life – apply The Peter Prescription – and experience genuine personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment. 

Reading these two Books (The Peter Principle and The Peter Prescription) will enhance your plane of living.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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This is an updated version of my book review of THE PETER PRESCRIPTION written more than 30 years ago in 1986 and various versions posted online earlier at urls: and and  etc

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