HTBU has been described as "smart" (Chicago Tribune), "engaging" (The Washington Post), "helpful" (New York magazine), "frequently hilarious" (The Guardian), "pretty terrific" (January magazine), "sharp [and] witty [and] brimming with advice" (Minneapolis Star Tribune), "odd" (The Montreal Gazette), "fortuitous" (Utne Reader), and "clever and, as the title promises, useful" (Newsweek).

The Peter Principle

Posted: December 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: good examples of bad advice, recaps, Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Peter Principle made an appearance in ch. 7 because it helped explain bewildering organizational structures. By which I mean it helps explain why there are people at high levels of the organization who are blatantly incompetent. (A brief refresher: The Peter Principle states that people who are good at their jobs get promoted until they finally arrive at a position at which they can’t perform. They’ve “reach[ed] the level of their own incompetence.” And there they stay, enjoying big paychecks.)

Now the New Scientist reports that one way to get around this outcome is to promote people at random, and so presumably both high and low performers had an an equal shot. This is a deeply stupid idea that professor Rajiv Mehta politely terms “a really interesting alternative approach to looking at the Peter Principle.”

He continues: “But it would turn on its head almost every established theory of human behaviour and would face a multitude of problems.”

I’m not sure the Peter Principle is something you can regulate around, not least, as one commenter pointed out, because good people who aren’t rewarded at a company tend to quit in disgust and seek their fortunes elsewhere. As I saw it, its usefulness — as a theory — is that it helps stave off despair when you’re stuck working beneath incompetents. It’s not you, and it’s not even them. It’s the system. Knowing this helps frustrated junior employees from overdosing on self-doubt.