Friday, November 11, 2011

The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong By Laurence J. Peter, Raymond Hull

The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong

The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong
By Laurence J. Peter, Raymond Hull

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Product Description

This book caused a storm when first published in 1969, battering up the bestseller list to #1, charming readers from Topeka to Timbuktu, and finally, brilliantly, blessedly giving the world an answer to a question that nags us all: Why is incompetence so maddeningly rampant and so vexingly triumphant? The book and the phrase it defined are now considered comedic-yet-classic cornerstones of organizational thought, and in honor of the book's fortieth anniversary, Robert I. Sutton has written a foreword introducing the book to a new generation of readers.

The Peter Principle, the eponymous law Laurence Peter coined, explains that "in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Everyone—from the office intern to the CEO, from the low-level civil servant to a nation's president—will inevitably rise to his or her level of incompetence, if it hasn't happened already. Dr. Peter's glorious revelation explains why incompetence is at the root of everything we endeavor to do—why schools bestow ignorance, why governments condone anarchy, why courts dispense injustice, why prosperity causes unhappiness, and why utopian plans never generate utopias.

With the wit of James Thurber or Mark Twain, the psychological and anthropological acuity of Sigmund Freud or Margaret Mead, and the theoretical impact of Isaac Newton or Copernicus, Dr. Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull's brilliant book explains how incompetence and its accompanying symptoms, syndromes, and remedies define the world and the work we do in it.

Product Details
  • Amazon Sales Rank: #803023 in Books
  • Published on: 2009-04-01
  • Released on: 2009-04-14
  • Format: Bargain Price
  • Number of items: 1
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 192 pages
Editorial Reviews

"The Peter Principle has cosmic implications." (The New York Times )

"Ruefully delightful ... excruciatingly applicable--and fun to read" (Playboy )

"[The Peter Principle] has struck a throbbing public nerve... a minor cultural phenomenon and its title phrase, like Parkinson's Law, is certain to enter the language." (Life magazine )

About the Author
Laurence J. Peter was born in Canada and received an EdD from Washington State University. A teacher, counselor, school psychologist, prison instructor, consultant, and university professor, he wrote articles for many journals and magazines as well as several books, most notably The Peter Principle. He died in 1990.

Raymond Hull wrote many plays as well as articles for Punch, Macleans, and Esquire. He died in 1985.

Robert I. Sutton is professor of management science and engineering in the Stanford Engineering School, where he is codirector of the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization, an active researcher and cofounder in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and a cofounder and active member of the new multidisciplinary "" Sutton is also an IDEO Fellow and a professor of organizational behavior, by courtesy, at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is also the author of many books, including the internationally bestselling The No Asshole Rule.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful.
5Right on the money
By Coup D'Amazon
In the first chapter of the book, after a few examples of his principle in action, Laurence Peter proposes his Peter principle: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." He proceeds to take the reader on a journey through the nascent field of "hierarchiology," defining the necessary terms as he goes along. He provides superb insight into why the hierarchies and bureacracies of the world are so inefficient and are becoming increasingly so, why successful people are often unhappy in their jobs and why the most talented people often proceed through their careers without material reward. Peter's observations are funny, but alarmingly true. An excellent resource for the armchair sociologist - highly recommended.

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful.
5Telling It, Like It Is
By K. Johnson
It's interesting yet perplexing, that when I studied Public Administration (yawn), we studied German economist and sociologist Max Weber, but never once, did our courses include the work of Laurence Peter. They should have.

The "Peter Principle" was written in 1969, but you'll realize immediately it's still very accurate and useful today. Many anecdotes and case studies may remind you of yourself, someone, or some people you've worked with. There are illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, and the ever-present Bell Curve. There are too many good things in this book to list. It's also a quick and easy-read.

The author's background is very relevant to the credibility of this book, which in my opinion, is a true classic. Laurence J. Peter received an Ed.D from Washington State University and had extensive experience as a teacher, counselor, school psychologist, prison instructor, consultant, and university professor. (I don't know much about the other author, Raymond Hull.) Here a a couple of concepts from the many things in the "Peter Principle."

Push & Pull:

Two different ways to "move up." No reason to go into detail, but a person pushing upward usually will not get the result of a person who's "pulled up from above." My favorite quote in the "Peter Principle" is on the "Push & Promotion" chapter on page 63:

"Never stand when you can sit; never walk when can ride; never Push when you can Pull."

Judging the competence of an employee:

Outsiders usually don't judge your performance. In general, your superior does. So if you have a:

Competent superior:

If a superior is competent they evaluate his/her subordinate by the usefulness of work. Performance. Output.

Incompetent superior:

If a superior is incompetent they will often judge the subordinate by "behavior that supports the rules, rituals, and forms of the status quo. Promptness, neatness, courtesy to superiors...." This is evaluating input, not output.

Creative Incompetence:

Most of us have witnessed and perhaps experienced a happy and talented person doing well at what they do in the workplace. Because of his/her optimum performance they're offered a promotion. A raise, yes. But also more stress, more time consumed, more responsibilities, and often new duties and skill-sets needed at the new position.

Some employees understand that in their particular circumstances the negatives outweigh the positives of a promotion. When realize they are next in line, or close to getting that promotion they don't want, they have (at least 2) options:

One, carefully refuse the promotion, while vocalizing that he/she is still committed and dedicated to the company, etc. This is called "Peter's Parry," and is not recommended by the author for most (but not all) employees.

The second option for the employee to avoid advancement, is not by refusing promotion but by intentionally doing minor and forgivable mistakes that will cause him/her to never be offered a promotion, but retain the current position. This is ---> Creative Incompetence. The author offers some techniques in the sub-section of this chapter for successfully executing Creative Incompetence. Peter states it's important that one conceal the fact that they want to avoid a promotion.

Again this book is almost 40 years old. Some of the individual (worker) values and the corporate climate has changed since then. But in private, public, and non-profit organizations, we see many of Peter's situations today. Too many.


When someone reaches his/her level of incompetence (called Peter's Plateau) the Zero PQ - Zero Promotion Quotient - 0% chance of a promotion exists. Understanding when one reaches the point of Zero PQ is very important. Many employees don't recognize when they hit it, and sometimes when an employee hits the ceiling he/she thinks it's incompetence, inferier skills, or lack of production, when it might actually be politics. They think they are not working "hard enough," or good enough. This person pushes harder by working longer, skipping breaks, and going the extra mile. These are the symptoms of ---> Final Placement Syndrome.

Have you ever witnessed or even experienced Zero PQ at work?

In organizations (i.e., hierarchies) people get promoted as long as they continue to be competent. Eventually they are promoted to a position in which their skills are not adequately applicable for their new position. Therefore other employees at the same level or below carry out the tasks, because these "other employees" have not hit their level of their incompetence, yet.

The Chapters are worthy of listing because they do highlight the points and topics in the book:

1. The Peter Principle
2. The Principle in Action
3. Apparent Exceptions
4. Pull & Promotion
5. Push & Promotion
6. Followers & Leaders
7. Hierarchically & Politics
8. Hints & Fore shadowing
9. The Psychology of Hierarchiology
10 Peter's Spiral
11 The Pathology of Success
12 Non-Medical Indices of Final Placement
13 Health & Happiness at Zero PQ
14 Creative Incompetence
15 The Darwinian Extension

There are numerous sub-chapters within the chapters, as well. This is a practical book with many anecdotes we've seen in real life. The "Peter Principle" can help corporate hierarchical rejectionists and corporate minions alike. A great glossary and chapter index is in the back of this classic.

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful.
4Looks satirical but is actually quite serious
By Drifter Invisible
This book's subject has been described as "satirical sociology". It's a rather short book that consists of made-up stories about administrative and business hierarchies. Some (if not all) of them are based on true events. Mr. Peter has given his characters funny names and the stories make you laugh frequently, but actually the message of the book is very serious. Mr. Peter demonstrates that endless climbing higher and higher is bound to lead your life into a dead end.

The book's fun to read and, in my opinion, delivers really valuable knowledge. It helps you to stand hold to the pressure from the environment that is telling you that when you are not successful with something, you just need to keep trying harder and investing more. Mr. Peter helps you realise why this won't work.

I have heard that some US government institutions are actually applying Mr. Peter's discoveries in their organization.

If you liked "Parkinson's Law", you'll enjoy this book as well. (And vice versa.)



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