peter principle

Two people problems that interest me

Somehow, in all my surfings, I never came across either of these ideas until the last few days. And, since they are very interesting, and I'll eventually forget about them, I'm going to note them right here.

The first concept is called the "Peter Principle," based on a somewhat humourous book by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull in the 60s. It was famously summed up by saying that in an organization "everyone rises to their level of incompetence," and is often laughed about as the precursor to the modern view of the idiocy of management that we see in shows like "The Office" or the comic strip Dilbert.

Here's how it works in theory, and some would say in practice. When you get a job and you do well at it, you get noticed by the upper management, and if you continue to shine, they will promote you. At the next position, the same thing happens, and, some years down the road, you find yourself with a nice income and a great team working beneath you. However, one day, you get noticed once again, and placed into a job that is above your current level, and for which you have no experience or expertise. Essentially, you have been promoted until you are no longer useful in the job you have. Perhaps you go from managing a thriving shop full of manual laborers to suddenly managing a division, complete with salespeople, a transportation department, etc.

The second phenomenon that I recently read about is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it is another common problem among humans, but one you should at least try to avoid. In a nutshell, David Dunning and Justin Kruger showed that incompetent people routinely overestimate their competence in a given task, while highly competent people tend to underestimate their own.

This can result in the bizarre paradox where people who have no business doing a job can be quite certain they can do it, while someone who is more than qualified may easily feel that they cannot. It's a strange world, and people are the strangest part of it, I guess.

Most of these people are completely mis-ranked.