Sunday, January 03, 2010

Remember the Peter Principle? It still works.

Why your boss is incompetent - life - 17 December 2009 - New Scientist


Kevin Scheunemann said...


Excellent article.

Doesn't this perfectly explain several members of the Obama cabinet?

Mpeterson said...

And Kewaskum trustees? Yes. :^)

Kevin Scheunemann said...

I've been zinged.

So does the "Peter Principle" leave the qualified political candidate (and corporate managerial) universe to philosophy professors?

Mpeterson said...

The only advantage philosophy professors would have, if you remember your Plato, is that -- at least -- we typically *know* we don't know everything, whereas people in business and politics are usually reinforced for assuming they do know things they don't know.

Kevin Scheunemann said...

So if the Motely Cow ever claimed to know it all, would it create a political paradox collapsing reality itself?

Seriously, if an "educated" guy like yourself admits he doesn't have the answers, is there anyone, accceptable under the Peter Principle, left to assume positions of leadership?

I have to go paint over my "philosophy has all the answers" bumper sticker since it now fails the basic logic standard I require for my car bumper.

Mpeterson said...

lol. Yes, if the Cow here claimed to know something for sure, that would generate a paradox. For more of which, see Kant on the Antinomies of Pure Reason.

It's not a matter of whether one has all the answers... it's a matter of whether you think you do. It's the certainty about being right that causes most of the trouble in life. Being aware that you don't know everything, traditionally in philosophy, is the definition of wisdom.

What we need is wisdom in our leaders -- something I thought we were getting this time (I confess to some residual hope, although he now has 16 days left to prove it), and something spectacularly lacking in the Bush administration (which shot from the hip and made up for bad intelligence by inventing what they wanted).

And I want to be more concise about what I said before... if you look at the most successful business leaders or politicians, it's their wisdom that stands out -- they're always looking for what it is they don't know. Unfortunately, these days we seem to confuse 'leadership' with being cock-sure about everything -- you know "Mission Accomplished!"

Um, anyone who put "philosophy has all the answers" on a bumper sticker wasn't a philosopher. The phrase is internally contradictory.

Ordinary Jill said...

The Peter Principle should be renamed The Palin Principle.

Rich Kasten said...

Jill, surely you jest... Considering the two clowns that are currently acting as President and Vice President.

Mpeterson said...

Rich, are you suggesting that George W Bush was a "better" president than the current office holder?

Or that Gov. Palin would have made a better Vice President than Senator Biden?

Rich Kasten said...

While not a perfect President, or even a very good President, I do think President Bush was a better President than Obama is security-wise and economically. While I would argue he was not fiscally conservative, he did not spend billions (or lets be honest, trillions) on a health care plan that is problematic at best.

As for Biden, there are few that would be worse than him, and Palin is not on that list.

Grant said...

I'm not so sure the prime mover of incompetence in electoral politics is more than superficially akin to the Peter Principle. It has more to do with the problem of the public described so well by Kierkegaard, Lippmann and Mencken. Oh...and The Wire.

Ordinary Jill said...

Sarah Palin was a barely-competent Mayor of a small city. She road a perfect storm of political scandal to the Governor's office. She was the only Republican who was willing to run against the about-to-be-indicted Gov. Murkowski, and the voters recognized her as the only way to save the statehouse from the Democrats. She was overwhelmed by the actual responsibilities of the Governor's job. She lept at the chance to grab national office and brought down the McCain campaign when voters realized how unqualified she was. In the end, she did not even finish a single term as Governor because the job was too difficult for her, and yet she has created the illusion that she is a pundit and a national leader. The Peter Principle in action.

John Jost said...

May I add in my take of this? The Peter Principle is totally mistaken. In my own experience, if you do your job well, you'll do it forever. Why would they rock the boat?
It's the screw-up who can't do anything right, but talks loud, well and often, who gets elevated to the next level in hopes that he'll be able to cope there, until the dumbest of them all makes it to CEO, which explains many recent events.
I was fortunate to become so indispensable that I could practically dictate my compensation. I never minded having nobody report to me since I was making dough like the guy two levels above me.
To stick to evangelists, call it the John principle.

Mpeterson said...

Hey Rich,

I'm afraid the health care package will turn out to be peanuts compared to the amount of tax payer money being funneled into the pockets of Bush and Cheney's owners at Halliburton and Blackwater -- and among the Saudi royal house.

I'm not happy about this giant subsidy it looks like we'll be handing over to Big Pharma, but I don't remember you complaining about our tax dollars subsidizing BMWs for the children of war profiteers.

And Biden was a perfectly competent Senator since the Nixon administration, while Palin didn't understand the foreign policy of her own political party, so I'm afraid I have to disagree with your definition of "worse".

Rich Kasten said...

Jill, your reasoning is odd. You are sorely mistaken if you truly believe she was the reason the McCain went down. Many in the Republican base were apathetic at best at the choice of McCain no matter who was on the ticket with him. I assume you will not be voting for Tom Barrett since he is the only Democrat willing to run against Scott Walker in an attempt to save the state house?

Mark, Biden is known for his gaffes - including his assertion that the war in Iraq was lost, the many, many times he inflated his resume, and as VP giving up confidential information. Unfortunately, the country rewarded this with not just making him a pundit, but making him VP.

Mpeterson said...

Rich, it's only on Wall Street that incompetence seems to be rewarded. Gaffs are charming in a Senator only so long as they don't muck up their policy analysis.... one major difference is that Biden usually knows when he's committing a gaff -- Palin never did.

Rich Kasten said...

Mark, so I assume you had the same cavalier attitude when Quayle was in office? By all accounts he was a good senator, but had a few gaffes of his own. Or are you going to apply the same weak argument about knowing or not knowing he was committing a gaffe.

I really cannot believe you are sticking up for Biden here. Compared to Palin or not, he is a poor choice for the 2nd in command.

Face it, our last 3 Presidents have been poster children for the Peter Principle. And the list is even longer for VPs, House Speakers, etc., etc., etc.

Mpeterson said...

Um, I did have a pretty cavalier attitude about Danny boy, since Mr. Bush Sr. and his cabinet were pretty competent.

But I thought that in terms of government budgeting and general US leadership in the world, Clinton did a good job. I agreed with going into the the Balkans since I cannot imagine the Europeans stepping in to prevent a genocide -- but I think it's the sort of thing America has to do. I'm in favor of pay-as-you-go budgeting and keeping track of terrorists who want to blow up American cities -- unlike his predecessor.

So, I don't worry about that sort of thing. From your list, there isn't anyone in public service who's not an idiot -- which, I think, is too big a target :^) -- but my experience is that there are plenty of people, even in Congress and on both sides of the aisle, who are perfectly good at their jobs.

Biden was one of 'em, gaffs and all.

Gov. Palin? Um.... I just can't get there. :^)