The Peter Principle: In Every Hierarchy The Cream Rises Until It Sours - Deepstash
The Peter Principle: In Every Hierarchy The Cream Rises Until It Sours

The Peter Principle: In Every Hierarchy The Cream Rises Until It Sours

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The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle states that every member of a hierarchy will eventually rise to their level of incompetence, or final placement. This position is the furthest you can be promoted with the skills that you possess. In other words, employees continue to receive promotions as long as they’re competent in their current position.


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Incompetence Is Inescapable

As individuals, our skills and competencies vary. You might be a genius software developer, and be very proud of that fact. But this doesn’t make you the best fit for a consultancy; perhaps you might simply be unable to cope with the constant pressure of that business.

Some of us are able to rise all the way to the top of a hierarchy without reaching our level of incompetence, so we switch to other hierarchies and find it there. This is called compulsive incompetence. Just look at Socrates: A great teacher; not such a great defense lawyer.


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The Pseudo-Promotion

Perhaps you’re harboring doubts about the Peter Principle, as you can recall several cases where it didn’t apply in your own workplace. If someone is promoted even though he obviously reached his level of incompetence, this must be an exception to the rule, right?

Nope. That’s called a pseudo-promotion.

Pseudo-promotions are just sideways shifts, leaving employees in the same place in the food chain with no real increase in power. Percussive Sublimation is what happens when someone who is already at their level of incompetence receives a promotion in another division.


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The Lateral Arabesque

A Lateral Arabesque promotes someone incompetent by offering them a shiny new job title. Take a certain Mr. Schmidt, who is now an incompetent Senior Facility Manager, even though he did the exact same job as a maintenance man. The larger the organization, the more Lateral Arabesques you’ll find.


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The Peter’s Inversion

When it seems impossible that someone so incompetent can be promoted, it might be Peter’s Inversion: a nurse wakes you up to remind you to take your sleeping pill; though the goal is for you to sleep, her reminding you was more important to her.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but it isn’t. Competence is both relative and subjective, as it’s something usually determined by your superior. If a rule enjoins nurses to remind every patient of his pills, the nurse followed the rules to perfection. These non-exceptions show that the Peter Principle exists in any organization with a hierarchy.


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