The Peter Principle Explains Why So Much Goes Wrong

Brilliance | Dec. 11, 2017

Have you ever felt like the entire world was completely incompetent at their jobs? Hate to break it to you, but this might actually be the case. That's according to the Peter Principle, which states that in a hierarchy (like a government or a corporation), every employee tends to rise to the level of his or her incompetence. The principle's author, educational scholar Dr. Laurence J. Peter, restated it in another way: rather than the cream rising to the top, "the cream rises until it sours."

Hello, Peter, What's Happening?

It makes sense: if you're good at your job, you'll be promoted. If you're not good at your job, you won't. People are rarely demoted, regardless of their job performance. This means that an employee will continue to be promoted until they reach a position for which they're unfit. Because they do poorly in that position, they aren't promoted to a higher one, and they're stuck being incompetent at their job.

This principle may sound tongue-in-cheek, but it has sinister implications in the real world. From transit delays and internet outages to oil spills and rocket explosions, how many of the world's errors come down to people rising to the level of their incompetence?

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