Filed under: brave new world | Tags: dilbert, office hierarchy, the gervais principle, the office, the peter principle, venkatesh rao, william whyte
I just got a quick and clarifying education into the pathologies of corporate life. We can live for years in bafflement of the environments and cultures we work in, until one day someone comes along and explains it all for us. We can even watch and read comedies and comics like The Office and Dilbert, and sort of know that they show us how we are living, but never fully understand how dangerously true they are.
Read Venkatesh Rao’s The Gervais Principle. It’s a primer that explains theories of office politics beginning with Whyte’s The Organization Man in the 50s, then The Peter Principle in 1969, then Dilbert and finally his own theory drawn from The Office which he dubs The Gervais Principle. I’ve cut and pasted a timeline to try to explain it following:
From William Whyte’s The Organization Man in the 1950s –
Of all organization men, the true executive is the one who remains most suspicious of The Organization. If there is one thing that characterizes him, it is a fierce desire to control his own destiny and, deep down, he resents yielding that control to The Organization, no matter how velvety its grip… he wants to dominate, not be dominated…Many people from the great reaches of middle management can become true believers in The Organization…But the most able are not vouchsafed this solace.
The Peter Principle from Wikipedia in 1969 –
In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence /…/ It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions.
Rao tells why it is wrong –
The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid, and because there isn’t that much room in an upward-narrowing pyramid. They know what it takes for a promotion candidate to perform at the “to” level. So if they are promoting people beyond their competence anyway, under conditions of opportunity scarcity, there must be a good reason.
Dilbert in the 90s and 00s-
Scott Adams, seeing a different flaw in the Peter Principle, proposed the Dilbert Principle: that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to middle management to limit the damage they can do. This again is untrue.
The Gervais Principle –
The Gervais principle predicts the exact opposite: that the most competent ones will be promoted to middle management. Michael Scott was a star salesman before he become a clueless middle manager. The least competent employees (but not all of them — only certain enlightened incompetents) will be promoted not to middle management, but fast-tracked through to senior management. To the sociopath level.
Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.
–The Gervais Principle on ribbonfarm.com by Venkatesh Rao
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