Peter’s Principle Alive and Well Today

The Peter Principle is named after Laurence J. Peter, who co-authored the 1969 humorous book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong with Raymond Hull.

The book describes the pitfalls of bureaucratic organization, suggesting that people will tend to be promoted until they reach their “position of incompetence.”

Definition of ‘Peter Principle’
  • In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
  • In time, ever post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.
  • Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. describes the principle this way:

“An observation that in an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence. The Peter Principle is based on the notion that employees will get promoted as long as they are competent, but at some point will fail to get promoted beyond a certain job because it has become too challenging for them. Employees rise to their level of incompetence and stay there. Over time, every position in the hierarchy will be filled by someone who is not competent enough to carry out his or her new duties.”

A 2009 Business Week article observed:

“Now 40, The Peter Principle resonates even more today, when a lust for accomplishment has led an unprecedented level of incompetence.”

“When people do their jobs well, Dr. Peter argued, society can’t leave well enough alone. We ask for more and more until we ask too much. Then these individuals—promoted to positions in which they are doomed to fail—start using a bag of tricks to mask their incompetence. They distract us from their crummy work with giant desks, replace action with incomprehensible acronyms, blame others for failure, cheat to create the illusion of progress.”

I won’t rise to my level of incompetence and try to describe examples of the Peter Principle at work in my life. However, I ask you to stop and think about it in yours. Look at your job. How many co-workers are in positions where they are over their heads? Look at government. Good grief! Our bloated bureaucracy on the local, state, and federal levels is enough to make my point.

And look at your personal life. Are you in a position where you are competent and comfortable? Or are you driven to climb that ladder of success, whatever that means to you?


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