Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why Things Always Go Wrong The Peter Principle Book Review

Why Things Always Go Wrong

Book Review 
The Book: The Peter Principle 
Authors: Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
Published: 1969 William Morrow
I think there is a Chinese saying:

It is a misfortune to read a good book too early in life. 

I think I read ‘The Peter Principle’ too early in life.

At that point of time 
 I was of an impressionable age – and  the book influenced me so much  that I “rose” to my level of incompetence pretty fast  either unintentionally  or by subconscious design.
I read ‘The Peter Principle’ in the early 1970s  maybe sometime in 1972  when I was studying for my B. Tech. degree in Engineering.

I even bought a personal copy of the book in 1974 (which I possess till this day) – and  considering my financial status as a student those days –buying a personal copy of ‘The Peter Principle’ – a book I had already read many times  was quite remarkable.
The book  written by Laurence J. Peter  in collaboration with Raymond Hull  is a management classic and masterpiece in the study of hierarchiology.

It is so fascinating, riveting and hilarious – that  once you start reading the book  it’s unputdownable.
In the first chapter itself  giving illustrative examples  the author establishes 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
Dr. Peter writes in racy fictional style  and as you read  you experience a sense of verisimilitude  and in your mind’s eye can see the Peter Principle operating in your very own organization. 

That’s the way to savor the book and to truly understand and imbibe the spirit of The Peter Principle – read an illustrative “case study” in the book  and relate it to a parallel example in your organization.
The author discusses cases which appear to be exceptions like percussive sublimation, lateral arabesque etc and demonstrates that the apparent exceptions are not exceptions. 

The Peter Principle applies to all hierarchies.
Discussing the comparative merits and demerits of applying ‘Pull’ versus ‘Push’ for getting promotion  Dr. Peter concludes: 

Never Stand when you can Sit  Never Walk when you can Ride  Never Push when you can Pull.
He then tells us how to recognize that one has reached one’s state of incompetence (final placement syndrome) – and  should one have already risen to one’s state of incompetence – he suggests ways of attaining health and happiness in this state at zero promotion quotient.
Towards the end of his book he illustrates how to avoid reaching the state of incompetence by practicing various techniques of Creative Incompetence. 

I probably practiced Creative Incompetence quite competently  and hopefully  I am still at my level of competence...!!!
In conclusion Dr. Peter tries to briefly explore remedies to avoiding life-incompetence which he has elaborated in his follow up book ‘The Peter Prescription’ which is a must-read once you are hooked onto The Peter Principle.
The Peter Principle is a compelling book  written 47 years ago in 1969.

Today  with the flattening of hierarchy  and the advent of flexible organizational structures and HR practices  it would indeed be worthwhile for young and budding managers to read this book and to see to what extent the Peter Principle applies and is relevant in today’s world.    

Dear Reader: Do read The Peter Principle.

Then look around you in your workplace. 

Do you see the Peter Principle in operation...?

And next 

Of course – I will post the book review of The Peter Prescription right here in my blog. 

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

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