Book Review – The Peter Principle and The Peter Prescription

Source: Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: How to Make Things Go Right – The Peter Prescription – Book Review

Why Things Always Go Wrong

THE PETER PRINCIPLE 

Book Review By VIKRAM KARVE 

The Book: The Peter Principle Authors: Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull Published: 1969 William Morrow

I think there is a Chinese saying:

It is a misfortune to read a good book too early in life. 

I think I read ‘The Peter Principle’ too early in life.

At that point of time – I was of an impressionable age – and – the book influenced me so much – that I “rose” to my level of incompetence pretty fast – either unintentionally – or by subconscious design.

I read ‘The Peter Principle’ in the early 1970s – maybe sometime in 1972 – when I was studying for my B. Tech. degree in Engineering.

I even bought a personal copy of the book in 1974 (which I possess till this day) – and – considering my financial status as a student those days –buying a personal copy of ‘The Peter Principle’ – a book I had already read many times – was quite remarkable.

The book – written by Laurence J. Peter – in collaboration with Raymond Hull – is a management classic and masterpiece in the study of hierarchiology.

It is so fascinating, riveting and hilarious – that – once you start reading the book – it’s unputdownable.

In the first chapter itself – giving illustrative examples – the author establishes the Peter Principle:

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence

and – its corollary:

In time – every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent

Dr. Peter writes in racy fictional style – and as you read – you experience a sense of verisimilitude – and in your mind’s eye can see the Peter Principle operating in your very own organization.

That’s the way to savor the book and to truly understand and imbibe the spirit of The Peter Principle – read an illustrative “case study” in the book – and relate it to a parallel example in your organization.

The author discusses cases which appear to be exceptions like percussive sublimation, lateral arabesque etc and demonstrates that the apparent exceptions are not exceptions.

The Peter Principle applies to all hierarchies.

Discussing the comparative merits and demerits of applying ‘Pull’ versus ‘Push’ for getting promotion – Dr. Peter concludes:

Never Stand when you can Sit – Never Walk when you can Ride – Never Push when you can Pull.

He then tells us how to recognize that one has reached one’s state of incompetence (final placement syndrome) – and – should one have already risen to one’s state of incompetence – he suggests ways of attaining health and happiness in this state at zero promotion quotient.

Towards the end of his book he illustrates how to avoid reaching the state of incompetence by practicing various techniques of Creative Incompetence.

I probably practiced Creative Incompetence quite competently – and hopefully – I am still at my level of competence…!!!

In conclusion Dr. Peter tries to briefly explore remedies to avoiding life-incompetence which he has elaborated in his follow up book ‘The Peter Prescription’ which is a must-read once you are hooked onto The Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle is a compelling book – written 47 years ago in 1969.

Today – with the flattening of hierarchy – and the advent of flexible organizational structures and HR practices – it would indeed be worthwhile for young and budding managers to read this book and to see to what extent the Peter Principle applies and is relevant in today’s world.

Dear Reader: Do read The Peter Principle.

Then look around you in your workplace.

Do you see the Peter Principle in operation…?

And next – you must read THE PETER PRESCRIPTION

I have posted the book review of ‘The Peter Prescription’ below.

HOW TO MAKE THINGS GO RIGHT 

Prescriptions on How To Be Creative Confident and Competent 

THE PETER PRESCRIPTION

Book Review By VIKRAM KARVE 

Title: The Peter Prescription  Author: Dr. Laurence J. Peter  Published: 1972 (William Morrow)

A Blissful Retired Life gives me the golden opportunity to dust off my favourite books from my bookshelves – sit in the warm morning sun and re-read these lovely books sipping a hot cup of refreshing tea to warm my insides and stimulate my brain.

I have realized that re-reading good books gives me even greater pleasure.

So that’s what I am going to do for the next few days – browse my bookshelves – re-read some of my favourite books – and tell you about them.

During my college days – in the 1970’s – when I was studying for my B. Tech. degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering – I read three non-fiction and non-technical books which had a lasting impact on me.

The first was Parkinson’s Law (written in 1958) by Cyril Northcote Parkinson based on the author’s study of the British Civil Service and the Admiralty.

The other two books were written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter – The Peter Principle (1969) and The Peter Prescription (1972).

These 3 Management Classics greatly influenced my way of looking at life in general and Human Resource (HR) Management issues in particular – sometimes with a sense of humor – and I feel that these three books are a must for the bookshelves of every Manager.

Written with incisive wit – Parkinson’s Law is a seminal book on the workings of bureaucracy which is essential reading for any student of Management.

It is consummate management classic – a masterpiece – which is a “must read” for every manager and management student.

The Peter Principle – a delightful read – provides a superb insight and intriguing study of hierarchiology.

Let me state in brief the Peter Principle:

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence

and its corollary:

In time – every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent

If The Peter Principle is Dr. Peter’s seminal pioneering work – then The Peter Prescription is his definitive book – a wonderful all-time management classic.

If you have not read ‘The Peter Principle’ – do read my review of the book – the previous post in my blog (url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/07/why-things-always-go-wrong-peter.html )

Understanding ‘The Peter Principle’ is sine qua non – essential prerequisite reading – before you embark upon ‘The Peter Prescription’.

Whereas both Parkinson’s Law and The Peter Principle formulate and substantiate their respective theories – The Peter Prescription is a philosophical self-help treatise on how to achieve happiness in all aspects of life.

Written in his unique hilarious inimitable style – Dr. Peter exhorts us to be creative, confident and competent – by replacing mindless escalation with life-quality improvement.

The message of the book is in congruence with Eastern (Oriental) Philosophies – which focus on inward enhancement – rather than – outward escalation.

In his introduction Dr. Peter states:

“Many authors offer answers before they understand the questions…….. I understand the operation of the Peter Principle, and the remedies offered are the product of years of research……… prescriptions will lead to great personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment.”

The book – interspersed liberally with quotations and case studies – comprises three parts.

The first part – titled Incompetence Treadmill – explores why conventional solutions not only fail to alleviate the effects of the Peter Principle but explains why these conventional techniques may actually serve to escalate the problems.

His analysis of ‘marital incompetence’ is hilarious.  
“A bachelor is a man who looks before he leaps – and then does not leap…” Dr. Peter concludes.

With the flattening of hierarchies – I wonder whether – in today’s world – there still exist any Professional Processionary Puppets – the “organization-men”.

It would be worthwhile to look dispassionately – from a distance – into your own organization for similarities to prototypes adorning bureaucracies of yesteryear – in order to ascertain whether your own organisation is a modern state-of-the-art progressive one – or whether your organisation is a rigid hierarchy bound archaic organization heading for decay.

The meat of the book is in Part Two – titled ‘Protect your Competence’ – which elucidate a total of 25 “prescriptions” on how to remain creative and competent throughout your working and personal life.

There are two things to aim at in life: 

First – to get what you want

Second – after you get what you want – to enjoy it

The prescriptions – which are condensed wisdom of the ages – from ancient to modern – guide us on how to achieve this cardinal aim of life.

“The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness…” Dr. Peter quotes with elan in this delightful book.

Competence is a system-governed factor

Your competence is as viewed by your bosses.

Like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder – your competence lies in the eyes of your boss… 

And thus – the yardsticks of competence are governed by the HR policies in your organization.

Why is everyone around you so competitive…?

Do the HR policies in your organization encourage competition, rat-race and reward escalationary behaviour – and if so – what can you do about it…?

Maybe you can find some answers by exploring the prescriptions.

Let’s have a look at Peter Prescription 3 – The Peter Panorama – which I have used to great effect.

This comprises listing your satisfying activities, joyful experiences, pleasant reminiscences – and after introspection – making a second list of those which are feasible to do regularly – and then make sure you do these satisfying activities whenever feasible.

Enjoyable events begin to crowd out the unpleasant – and – you feel happy.

And – in the extreme – there are prescriptions like utter irrelevance– hilariously effective.

Do read – experiment – and try to imbibe the prescriptions in your professional and personal life, and experience the results for yourself.

Introspect – evolve a philosophy of life – fine tune the art of living – concentrate your efforts within your area of competence – and have an improved quality of life consisting of abiding competence and contentment.

If you cannot be happy here and now  you can never be happy.

Part Three of the book is written from the management perspective – giving 42 “prescriptions” to Managers to contain and mitigate the effects of “The Peter Principle” in their domains and manage for competence.

It views The Peter Principle from the viewpoint of a Human Resource Manager – and assuming the manager himself is not a victim of the Peter Principle and reached his or her level of incompetence – it offers valuable tips in the HR Management – particularly recruitment, promotion and selection.

Obviously – outsourcing wasn’t that prevalent way back then in the 1960’s and 1970’s – otherwise organizations may even have ‘outsourced’ incompetence.

Isn’t it a brilliant idea to outsource incompetence…?

Maybe some are doing it already…!

The Defence Services outsource incompetence by sending passed over officers on deputation to other agencies.

As stated in the introduction – the purpose of The Peter Prescription is to help you explore how you yourself can mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle by avoiding the final placement syndrome – and – as a manager – it tells you how to keep your employees at their appropriate competence levels so that they remain happy and productive – and help achieve mutual optimal benefit.

Dear Reader: First read and understand The Peter Principle

Then – to your own life – apply The Peter Prescription – and experience genuine personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment.

Reading these two Books (The Peter Principle and The Peter Prescription) will enhance your plane of living.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

This is an updated version of my book review of THE PETER PRESCRIPTION written more than 30 years ago in 1986 and various versions posted online earlier at urls:http://creative.sulekha.com/book-review-the-peter-prescription-the-peter-principle-by-vikram-karve_169356_blog and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2010/07/how-to-remain-creative-and-competent.html and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2012/02/peter-prescription-book-review.html  etc

Links to My Original Post in My Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog -> http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/07/why-things-always-go-wrong-peter.html  and  http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/07/how-to-make-things-go-right-peter.html

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