Vikrama Dhiman
My name is Vikrama Dhiman. I lead Mobility Products @ Gojek. Previously, I led product teams at Bharti SoftBank (Airtel Money, myAirtel, Wynk), Directi (BigRock), Zeta (Corporate Benefits and Gifting), WizIQ (eLearning) and MakeMyTrip (Travel/ Hotels). I was an Agile Coach with Cisco, Yodlee, Sapient, HP & I am an avid reader.

The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter | Review by Vikrama Dhiman

In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties. Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

This is the primary quote from the book. This is essentially a book about hierarchies or hierarchology, as the author calls it. It is also a book about competence. The author draws his conclusions from observation and inference. He has not done an exhaustive literature review - although there is a chapter exploring some of the themes (really preliminary or first draft review). The author feels his concepts are original, and they do seem. This is a book without other references but will be referenced a lot.

The book was written way back in 1960s. It is still very relevant. It did not specifically analyse large private limited corporations but that most of them suffer from the same issues that large government organizations did in 1960s is crazy. The author gives some practical suggestions to avoid the rut of rising to the level of incompetence (although that is your destiny) and does not really evaluate hierarchy from a larger sociological perview (what’s next after CEO/ President?) and there are no recommended readings. Perhaps, some chapters need a relook in the era of tech enterpreneurship.

If you are a mid-career or a senior-career level professional, I highly recommend that you read this book.

The quotes from the book that stayed with me include:

  • Man must realize that improvement of the quality of experience is more important than the acquisition of useless artifacts and material possessions.
  • In time I saw that all such cases had a common feature. The employee had been promoted from a position of competence to a position of incompetence. I saw that, sooner or later, this could happen to every employee in every hierarchy.
  • This is the reason why there is no direct relationship between the size of the staff and the amount of useful work done. Staff accumulation cannot be explained by Parkinson’s conspiracy theory: it results from a sincere, though futile, quest for efficiency by upper-level members of the hierarchy. Another point: Parkinson based his law on the Cheopsian or feudal hierarchy.
  • Super-competence often leads to dismissal, because it disrupts the hierarchy, and thereby violates the first commandment of hierarchal life: the hierarchy must be preserved.
  • Spend sufficient time in confirming the need, and the need will disappear. (Peter’s Prognosis.)

Remember, “Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.”

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