Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull


ABOUT THE BOOK (From Amazon):

The classic #1 New York Times bestseller that answers the age-old question
Why is incompetence so maddeningly rampant and so vexingly triumphant?

The Peter Principle, the eponymous law Dr. Laurence J. Peter coined, explains that everyone in a hierarchy—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. Dr. Peter 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 Mark Twain, the psychological acuity of Sigmund Freud, and the theoretical impact of Isaac Newton, Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull’s The Peter Principle brilliantly explains how incompetence and its accompanying symptoms, syndromes, and remedies define the world and the work we do in it.


Someone recently introduced me to the "Peter Principle" and I was so interested in the theory that I had to find the book and read more about it.

The idea of the Peter Principle is that “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.”  When people tend to do their job well, they are eligible for promotion and that cycle continues until they are promoted into a role for which they are incompetent to perform the duties.  At that point they have reached their "final placement."  They are no longer eligible for further promotions because they have reached their level of incompetence.

According to Dr. Peter, “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”  The many employees who may never realize they have reached their final placement utilize a number of the techniques to stay happily "busy" without producing anything:

  1. Perpetual Preparation - confirming the need for the action, studying alternative methods, obtaining expert advise, having the mentality of "first things first."
  2. Side Issue Specialization - "Look after the molehills and the mountains will look after themselves."
  3. Image Replaces Performance - "an ounce of image is like a pound of performance."
  4. Utter Irrelevance - participating in various committees, boards and other meetings and rarely being in their own office performing a job.
  5. Ephemeral Administrology - serving many temporary appointments, as a substitution.
  6. Convergent Specialization - becoming extremely specialized in something of little significance.
We all know people who engage the above techniques to get through their work day without really doing their job, right?  Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

I honestly couldn't put this book down.  It was just so funny.  The fact that it was written in 1969 added another level of humor as Dr. Peter briefly discussed computers and the incompetence of housewives.  Here are a couple of the quotes about housewives that made me laugh:

"'Woman's work is never done' is a sad commentary on the high proportion of women who reach their level of incompetence as housewives."

"Many a woman who has reached her level of incompetence as wife and/or mother achieves a happy, successful Substitution by devoting her time and energy to Utter Irrelevance and leaving husband and children to look after themselves."

The Peter Principle is light and entertaining, but is also very relevant.  I would recommend this book for anyone in a position of management.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: My Antonia by Willa Cather


ABOUT THE BOOK (From Amazon):

Willa Cather's classic "My Antonia" is the story of the daughter of an immigrant family that sets out to farm the untamed prairie land of Nebraska in the late 19th century. Told to us from the perspective of the adoring Jim Burden, an orphan who comes to live at his grandparent's neighboring farm. "My Antonia" is an enduring American classic rich with the spirit that brought so many immigrants to this land in search of a better life and of the beautiful imagery of the midwestern plains. First published in 1918, Will Cather saw "My Antonia" as the best book that she had ever written and it is easy to see why, for it is nothing short of a masterpiece.


I grew up in Nebraska and attended Willa Cather Elementary school, so I have always wanted to read a book by Willa Cather.  As I am slowly making my way through Moderns Library's 100 Best Novels, I found My Antonia on the list and selected it to read in January.

The story is told by the character Jim Burden, who moved from Virginia to live with his grandparents in a small farm community in Nebraska.  During that time period, migrants were coming to the area to farm the land.  At the beginning of the story we meet Antonia, who is the young daughter of a Bohemian family and throughout the story the reader watches Antonia grow up and experience hardships of a migrant girl. 

Although the story is primarily about Antonia, there are other important characters and storylines.  One of the major themes in the book is how the group of poor migrant girls in this community, working as farmhands, nannies and maids, grow up and where their paths lead each of them in life based on the choices they made in their late teens/early twenties.  Antonia is a sweet, hardworking girl, loved by all, and her fate is not what others expected of her. 

Yet, in the end, Antonia is where she wants to be.  There is a part at the end that I found very beautiful, when the narrator describes Antonia's appearance as an older woman: "I know so many women who have kept all the things she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded.  Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of her life.  Her skin, so brown and hardened, had not that look of flabbiness, as if the sap beneath it had been secretly drawn away." 

Willa Cather was known for her writing about frontier life and descriptive portraits of the Nebraska landscape.  It is also very interesting to read this book, 100 years after it was written, to understand the history of some of the farming community in the Great Plains.