Living by the Peter Principle

I LOVE the Peter Principle. I was first introduced to it early in my career.

The Peter Principle states that:

“In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.”

I worked with a guy who’d quit a good job as a mechanical engineer with 3M to work at a asdf motorcycle repair shop (his TRUE passion). He quickly rose up the ladder and became parts department manager. He hated it, “I no longer got to burn my elbow on hot mufflers”. He wanted to repair bikes, not manage parts. So, he quit. They ended up giving him his old job back but alas, he ended up as the part time parts manager. He finally quit the place altogether.

The only reason he worked at the place I met him at was because we had a machine shop. Most mechanical engineers draw up their plans and give them to the machine shop to whittle out the part. No this guy – he’d wait for the machine shop guys to go home at 3:00 PM and then head out to the shop. He’s whittle out the parts the way he wanted them and them bring it back to his desk, measure it, and draw up the specs. He’s one of the best mechanical engineers I’ve ever worked with.

(Sorry for taking the long way around to the point.) This guy introduced me to the “Peter Principle.” He was using it proactively to avoid climbing up the ladder to where he’d be
ladderunhappy (and doing something he didn’t like). He intentionally dressed kind of strange (ties that didn’t match, etc) – although I don”t think it much of a stretch for him. He also had a great tip. Leave a desk drawer open at the end of the day when you go home. NOBODY does that – it makes management think you’re a little “off.”

He was good at what he did, but was certain to make sure that our boss didn’t see potential for any kind of management position.

So, not only is the Peter Principle great at explaining why the organizations we’re in are the way they are, we can use it to our advantage!

Ladder Photo: / CC BY 2.0