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The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong Hardcover – April 14, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 133 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The Peter Principle has cosmic implications.” (The New York Times)

“Ruefully delightful ... excruciatingly applicable—and fun to read” (Playboy)

“[The Peter Principle] has struck a throbbing public nerve... a minor cultural phenomenon and its title phrase, like Parkinson’s Law, is certain to enter the language.” (Life magazine)

From the Back Cover

This book caused a storm when first published in 1969, battering up the bestseller list to #1, charming readers from Topeka to Timbuktu, and finally, brilliantly, blessedly giving the world an answer to a question that nags us all: Why is incompetence so maddeningly rampant and so vexingly triumphant? The book and the phrase it defined are now considered comedic-yet-classic cornerstones of organizational thought, and in honor of the book's fortieth anniversary, Robert I. Sutton has written a foreword introducing the book to a new generation of readers.

The Peter Principle, the eponymous law Laurence Peter coined, explains that "in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Everyone—from the office intern to the CEO, from the low-level civil servant to a nation's president—will inevitably rise to his or her level of incompetence, if it hasn't happened already. Dr. Peter's glorious revelation explains why incompetence is at the root of everything we endeavor to do—why schools bestow ignorance, why governments condone anarchy, why courts dispense injustice, why prosperity causes unhappiness, and why utopian plans never generate utopias.

With the wit of James Thurber or Mark Twain, the psychological and anthropological acuity of Sigmund Freud or Margaret Mead, and the theoretical impact of Isaac Newton or Copernicus, Dr. Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull's brilliant book explains how incompetence and its accompanying symptoms, syndromes, and remedies define the world and the work we do in it.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; 1st edition assumed edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061699063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061699061
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #292,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Johnson VINE VOICE on October 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's interesting yet perplexing, that when I studied Public Administration (yawn), we studied German economist and sociologist Max Weber, but never once, did our courses include the work of Laurence Peter. They should have.

The "Peter Principle" was written in 1969, but you'll realize immediately it's still very accurate and useful today. Many anecdotes and case studies may remind you of yourself, someone, or some people you've worked with. There are illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, and the ever-present Bell Curve. There are too many good things in this book to list. It's also a quick and easy-read.

The author's background is very relevant to the credibility of this book, which in my opinion, is a true classic. Laurence J. Peter received an Ed.D from Washington State University and had extensive experience as a teacher, counselor, school psychologist, prison instructor, consultant, and university professor. (I don't know much about the other author, Raymond Hull.) Here a a couple of concepts from the many things in the "Peter Principle."

Push & Pull:

Two different ways to "move up." No reason to go into detail, but a person pushing upward usually will not get the result of a person who's "pulled up from above." My favorite quote in the "Peter Principle" is on the "Push & Promotion" chapter on page 63:

"Never stand when you can sit; never walk when can ride; never Push when you can Pull."

Judging the competence of an employee:

Outsiders usually don't judge your performance. In general, your superior does. So if you have a:

Competent superior:

If a superior is competent they evaluate his/her subordinate by the usefulness of work. Performance. Output.
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Format: Hardcover
In the first chapter of the book, after a few examples of his principle in action, Laurence Peter proposes his Peter principle: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." He proceeds to take the reader on a journey through the nascent field of "hierarchiology," defining the necessary terms as he goes along. He provides superb insight into why the hierarchies and bureacracies of the world are so inefficient and are becoming increasingly so, why successful people are often unhappy in their jobs and why the most talented people often proceed through their careers without material reward. Peter's observations are funny, but alarmingly true. An excellent resource for the armchair sociologist - highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With this simple phrase on p.15 of my edition of The Peter Principle he explained nearly every problem the human species has faced as we have entered increasingly complex organizations in the development of our civilization,

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence given enough time and enough levels in the hierarchy

And the more I've thought about it, internalized it, experienced corporate hierarchy... the more I've realized that it explains everything.

A housing bubble caused by artificially low inflation rates? Some blame Greenspan but the reality is that he was just serving above his level of competence. It makes sense. America's colony in Iraq flubbed? Some blame Bush or his subordinates but the reality was that they were serving above their level of competence. We all do from time to time. We all think we are the exception.

As acquaintances enter the work force and through my own witness to the mindset of the low level employee, everyone seems to be focused primarily on ascending to the higher levels. Why? I think it is what we do as a species. It is our fate. I don't mean to dissuade blame from individuals, removing responsibility from personal action. I only intened to explain that we shouldn't expect success, we should expect blindingly stupid failure and then be pleasantly surprised when things aren't flubbed up. That's not being cynical or "realist". It is just recognizing human nature. Incompetence knows no boundaries of time or place.

The Peter Principle when published in 1969 raised a storm because many did not want to accept that they existed at their level of incompetence. Business people didn't take it seriously because it was written tounge-in-cheek with full blown laugh out loud moments.
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Format: Hardcover
This book's subject has been described as "satirical sociology". It's a rather short book that consists of made-up stories about administrative and business hierarchies. Some (if not all) of them are based on true events. Mr. Peter has given his characters funny names and the stories make you laugh frequently, but actually the message of the book is very serious. Mr. Peter demonstrates that endless climbing higher and higher is bound to lead your life into a dead end.
The book's fun to read and, in my opinion, delivers really valuable knowledge. It helps you to stand hold to the pressure from the environment that is telling you that when you are not successful with something, you just need to keep trying harder and investing more. Mr. Peter helps you realise why this won't work.
I have heard that some US government institutions are actually applying Mr. Peter's discoveries in their organization.
If you liked "Parkinson's Law", you'll enjoy this book as well. (And vice versa.)
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