No Happy Nonsense

The Peter Principle / Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull

May 4th, 2023 | Quick Thoughts

Having worked for roughly 10 years inside of a cubicle farm of pain, (and then a call-center purgatory)((and then finally an open floor-plan hellzone)) The Peter Principle had this sort of mythic quality to it, as if admitting to knowing the words of this hallowed spellbook was high treason and cause for execution. I heard multiple different coworkers, unsolicited, mention the Peter Principle by name as a reason for why a certain manager or director was bad at their job, or at least bad as perceived by us, the groundlings.

The princple itself, "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence" is a concise truism, which I think is most of the reason why it has lived on for so long. I remember looking it up after hearing about it and thinking to myself, "wow, this shit is absolutely right" and then fucking off with the rest of my life forever because just because your boss is or is not bad at his job, it really doesn't matter, you still need to wrap all the candies as they pass.

I saw this copy of The Peter Principle at one of the many used book sales I've attended over the years. I chuckled to myself as I looked it over, quickly scanned the interior for highlighting/marginalia, and then added it to my pile. For a dollar, basically any book is worth it. This copy also happens to be a first edition, so, cool?

Actually reading the book, wow, it's a satire. It's a really well done, funny satire that also bites into corporate culture of the time. The book presents "hierachiology" as the field of study that Dr. Peter has created and he presents a wide variety of new ideas related to how people work within a hierarchy. He uses case studies to illustrate his examples, and illustrates to exemplify them.

The fact that Peter and Hull probably just sat down a few times together and took the piss with one another making up fake field studies and new terms to explain exactly how and why a given worker is no good at their job in more and more elaborate and ridiculous reasonings is not explicitly stated, but is picked up on fairly quickly.

Some of these useful new terms include:

Peter's Bridge
Peter's Circumambulation
Peter's Circumbendibus
Peter's Corollary
Peter's Inversion
Peter's Invert
Peter's Nuance
Peter's Palliatives
Peter's Paradox
Peter's Parry
Peter's Placebo
Peter's Plateau
Peter's Prescriptions
Peter's Pretty Pass
Peter's Prognosis
Peter's Prophylactics
Peter's Remedies
Peter's Spiral

And a few more pages of terms in the glossary.

What's alarming and funny in a dystopic sort of way now though, is when you google The Peter Principle you get results from Forbes, Investopedia, and a bunch of other business bro bullshit sites that now talk of the principle as if it were given fact. As if it were an actual principle, studied and tested and true.

Imagine living in a world like that, where some dude wrote a funny satire and everyone just goes "huh, yeah, that's true actually"? Good thing this entire thing is just an overly-complex lucid dream I'm having, or I'd be scared of the trajectory of our world going forward. Time to wake up, I can smell my wife cooking bacon.

Filed Under: Reviews