The Eponymous Principles of Management : The Peter Prescription

How To Make Things Go Right

During his research for the groundwork that led to establishment of Peter Principle, Dr, Laurence J Peter observed that every advancement that human being made during the growth of civilization ultimately caused some unhappiness of classifying the mankind into some or other kind of classes, which he calls as hierarchy.

His understanding of the adverse effect that universal existence of Peter Principle has created, led him to work on developing a set of prescriptions that “will lead to great personal fulfilment and the joy of real accomplishment”. He sincerely claims that purpose of these prescriptions was “achievement of happiness in all aspects of life. This is accomplished …  through fulfilling your best potential while avoiding the pitfalls of incompetence”. He also submits that true progress is achieved through moving forward, not through moving upward.

The copy of a summary page from the book, The Peter Prescription: How To Be Creative, Confident and Competent (as first published in 1972) is shows that book is presented in three parts.

Each chapter in these parts is arranged as:

1. Incompetence treadmill
Onward and upward
Sex and society
Hierarchal regression
The mediocracy
2. Protect your competence
Know thyself
Know thy hierarchy
Know thy direction
Know thy defences
3. Manage for competence
The competence objective
The rational process
The gift of prophecy
The compensation miracle
Au Revoir.

This new book is much more serious; it goes further, but also deeper than “The Peter Principle”. Yet it provides as much humour as one could wish for, and a practical program for anyone who wants to avoid incompetence, find happiness and work towards a better world.

The humour part of the book can best be appreciated and enjoyed if one reads the book itself.

The Part 2 of the book present 25 of Peter Prescriptions to help protect the competence.  The author quite affirmatively submits that the prescriptions are simple rules of life that one ought to apply in the life so as to attain maximum fulfilment of joy and peace of mind and life on his own terms, within given circumstances. Each of the prescription is well explained by appropriate case studies and speaking quotations. The prescriptions no. 23 to 25 are recommended to be used when the job or competence in jeopardy. However, the author, in the normal flow of his writing, very quietly states that The Law of Perversity of Nature should always be remembered.

The Part 3 presents ways in which to improve the management skills so that assistance to others also can be provided to avoid incompetence. These are also presented in the form of next set of 36 prescriptions. Again, the prescriptions appear more to be day-to-day common-sense issues. However, the fact that everyone tends to rise to one’s level of incompetence sometime in the life, we must be failing to use some of these common-sense prescriptions unconsciously. The book, therefore, is an alert to keep these on our conscious mind every time.

The book ends with The Peter Plan which looks at the Peter Prescriptions as the first step in reversing escalatory entrapment.

Ultimately it is means to the end to begin the reconstructive planning of the whole society.

The author, Dr. Laurence J Peter is motivated by the ‘modest’ ambition to save the mankind.

Every ‘common man’ may not have such ambitions. But it still makes lot of sense to know what one’s own (core) competence is, at a given level of hierarchy, in the given circumstances. That, in turn requires a person to be a life-long learner. (After all), Man cannot live by the incompetence alone.

I believe our journey into the awareness of The Peter Principle and the Related Eponymous Laws will kindle that spark in the reader to be the life-long learner.


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Note: The sketch and quotes used in the article are taken form the book “The Peter Prescription’.

The individually published article of ‘The Peter Principle and the related other eponymous principles of management’ can be read / downloaded as one file by clicking the hyperlink.

The Eponymous Principles of Management : The Bannister Effect

It is Only Impossible, Until It’s Possible

It was thought to be impossible to run a mile in under four minutes, until Roger Bannister did it at, in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, on a windy spring day at Oxford on May 6, 1954.[1] Two months later, he raced his great rival John Landy of Australia and won that race, with both men going under four minutes, and within three years 16 runners had gone under the barrier. The current mile world record holders are Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco with a time of 3:43.13, and Sifan Hassan of The Netherlands with the women’s record of 4:12.33.

One would find similarities with the debate whether Alexander Graham Bell should be credited with the invention of (harmonic) phone or should it be Antonio Meucci and Eisha Gray. The Wright brothers failed attempt to fly their aircraft first time on December 14, 1903. Since Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing scaled the Mount Everest on May 29, 1953, many expeditions have subsequently made up to that coveted peak. Now when private journeys into the outer space have becoming a reality, more than six decades after the historic flight on April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin is widely celebrated in Russian space museums, with numerous artifacts, busts and statues displayed in his honour. On July 29, 1969, Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder of the spacecraft Apollo 8 and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (› Play Audio). But we do not remember that he said at the subsequent press conference that this feat was possible because of the hundreds of peoples’ toils.

All others who repeated these feats have done far better than these first timers. But we remember these first timers, only. Because these and several such first-ever events have changed the perception of human race what it can achieve.

There is a school of thought which believes that once there is a proof that something can be done, it induces the belief that it can be done. Another school of thought who analysed Bannister’s approach proposes that the belief comes before the proof.

We have a system in our bodies called the reticular activating system (RAS) that helps our brains decide what information to focus on and what to delete.

With a clearly defined purpose, a mission, and with living every moment in a state of certainty that you’ll achieve it, you influence what your RAS filters out and what lights it up.  As a result, you pay special attention things that help you achieve what you’re after, things you otherwise would have never noticed.

Below are three select quotes in bold text from Bannister with corresponding  analysis based upon what we know about the energy universe 105 years after Einstein’s relativity theory exposed it.

  • “We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves.”

The heart is a powerful energy centre that drives human beings to perform almost unimaginable acts of bravery, resilience and ingenuity. It also releases hormones as needed.

  • “Without the concentration of the mind and the will, performance would not result.”

Pure consciousness is the state of awareness without any thought processes at all. It is the coveted stage of meditation within the eternal mindfulness of now.

The most courageous quote from Bannister, perhaps is:

  • “No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed.”

The energy vibrations of nature were likely coherent with his own, leading to a complementary energy waveform of greater amplitude or power. This additive strength is commonly witnessed when matching ripples on a pond combine into larger waveforms. Some definitions of samadhi are noted as union with divine power.[2]

One of the best explanations for this phenomenon is the theory of self-efficacy developed by the renowned psychologist, Albert Bandura. According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy is defined as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.”

The self-efficacy theory suggests that individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to take the most action towards their goals, persist in the face of adversity and push the barriers of what they believe is possible. They are also more likely to tap into states of flow that improve mental and physical performance.

In short, the key difference between individuals with low versus high self-efficacy, is that the latter has a growth mindset whilst the former has a fixed mindset. Followers wait for leaders to show them what’s possible. Leaders break the barriers of what’s possible.[3]

It’s about mind over matter, stepping outside your comfort zone and overcoming mental barriers. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so move out of it. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new. We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.

Elbert Hubbard wrote:  The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

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The story of Dr. Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile has a simple lesson for business and life. That lesson is that what others believe to be our abilities and limitations has absolutely no bearing on how high we can take ourselves. What does matter ultimately (and primarily), however, is what we believe to be our abilities and limitations….. that for us to be as successful as we can be, the starting point is that we simply need to BELIEVE.[4]

In other words, what goes for runners goes for leaders running organizations. In business, progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some innovator changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for. That’s Roger Bannister’s true legacy and lesson for all of us who see the role of leadership as doing things that haven’t been done before.

In fact, two Wharton School professors have analyzed the lessons for business of the four-minute mile. In their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook devote an entire chapter to an assessment of Bannister’s feat and emphasize the mindset behind it rather than the physical achievement. How is it, they wonder, that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it. What changed was the mental model. The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.”

Most thinking about strategy, competition, and leadership emphasizes the intricacies of business models: revenues, costs, niches, leverage. But mental models are what allow organizations and their leaders to try not just to be the best at what everyone else can do, but to do things that only they can do — which, over time, shows others what it possible. They don’t accept the limitations, trade-offs, and middle-of-the-road sensibilities that define conventional wisdom. In other words, great leaders don’t just out-perform their rivals. They transform the sense of what’s possible in their fields.

That’s what makes icons like Roger Bannister so unforgettable — and so important[5] (to those who feel afflicted by Peter Principle syndrome or The Impostor Syndrome and the likes… .)

[1] Bannister Landy Miracle Mile 1954

[2] Anticipation and the Bannister Effect

[3] The 4-minute mile: Why some people achieve the impossible and others don’t

[4] The Powerful Lesson of 3:59.4

[5] What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional ThinkingBill Taylor

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The ‘Super Mario’ Effect

One common characteristic of incompetent people, whether infested by Dunning-Kruger Effect, or even competent people, under the influence of the Impostor Syndrome, or not, usually, is that failing several times makes one realize when it can happen again. That fear of failure causes us to never try in the first place.

However, it is conclusively proven that the root cause is actually not the fear, but how we perceive the failure, i.e., generally we would not like to be seen having failed in the eyes of the others. This was borne out in an experiment conducted by Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer and Apple engineer, with more than 1.5 million followers on YT[1]. The experiment runs something like this:

In a simple computer game, one had to get the car across the maze by typical arranging the computer programming code like blocks.

The game had two versions – in one if you fail you do not lose any points and can try again, whereas in the second one, for every failure you lose five points, but you can try again, here, too. 50,000 people played the game. When the results of the two versions were analysed, it revealed a very significant trait of a human being.

From the total participants who chose not lose points, 68% succeeded in solving the puzzle. This group had made 12 attempts, on an average, before they quit. In comparison to this, from those participants who opted for a loss of five pints per failure, on 52% finally solved the puzzle. The average number of attempts that this group made before quitting was 5.

This went on confirm the famous Japanese saying, “Nana Korobi, Ya Oki’[2] – Fall down seven times, stand up eight. In other words, those try more, are likely to succeed more.

It was this experiment that helped Mark Rober to come up with what he calls as The ‘Super Mario’ Effect.[3]

However, before we appraise ourselves with The ‘Super Mario’ Effect, it may be in order to know briefly what this game Super Mario is all about.

This a console video game wherein Mario and Luigi, the two Italian plumbers, try to search Princess Toadstool from the evil King Bowser in the land of Mushroom Kingdom.  The game is based on a series of side-scrolling levels, each filled with enemy evil turtles. The levels take place in different settings, some in dungeons and some above ground, with fights against Bowser impersonators at the end of castle levels. Once the imposter is defeated, a Mushroom Kingdom resident informs Mario or Luigi that the princess is in another castle. The game is completed with the defeat of the true Bowser and the rescue of Princess Toadstool.[4]

If you are defeated in one Super Mario like game, you do not remain defeated, but take on the challenge once again, and again. Generally, you also remember what error you committed in the last game. So, you, consciously or unconsciously, try to avoid that mistake again. This mentality helps you to improve your score with every outing.

Mark Rober, in his TEDx talk, The Super Mario Effect – Tricking Your Brain into Learning More, places this simple revelation as what he calls as ‘life gamification’. In effect this gamification effects helps us to reframe all of the challenges and failures in our life into obstacles we can overcome

In his talk, @7.25 Mark Rober sums his idea of ‘life gamification’ as:

This concept of life gamification is more than just, like, “Have a positive attitude” or “Never give up”, because those sort of imply you’re having to endure against your true desire to quit. I feel like when you frame a challenge or a learning process in the way I’m describing [gamification] you actually want to do it. It feels natural to ignore the failures and try again, in the same way a toddler will want to get up and try and walk again, or in the same way you want to keep playing Super Mario Bros.

This simple concept of learning is named after the game ‘Super Mario’ because, the (kid) players keep playing this difficult game without the fear of losses because of the inherent fun of playing the game. In fact, Mark Rober submits that in order to indeed learn how to beat the failures, one should lose. Every failure helps you to be more committed to the success next time.

Here are nine of the best lines from Mark’s Tedx Talk, which has been viewed by over 5.8 million people, on how we can trick our brains into thinking about all forms of learning in the same way we think about a game.

  1. “The trick to learning more and having more success is finding the right way to frame the learning process.”
  2. “What if you just framed the learning process in such a way that you didn’t concern yourself with failure? How much more successful could you be? How much more could you learn?”
  3. “The focus and obsession is about beating the game, not about how dumb you might look. And as a direct result of that attitude—of learning from but not being focused on the failures—we got really good and we learned a ton in a really short amount of time.”
  4. “This is what I call The Super Mario Effect: Focusing on the princess and not the pits, to stick with a task and learn more.”
  5. “When you frame a challenge or a learning process in the way I’m describing, you actually want to do it. It feels natural to ignore the failures and try again in the same way a toddler will want to get up and try to walk again or in the same way you want to keep playing Super Mario Brothers.”

  1. “I really believe if you reframe the challenges, it will make all the difference. My approach is to sort of trick you into learning something through something cool.”
  2. “By reframing the learning process, the fear of failure is often taken off the table and learning comes more naturally.”
  3. “By shifting your focus to the princess and treating your life’s challenges like video games, you can trick your brain and actually learn more and see more success.”
  4. “Failing and failing and failing and eventually succeeding.”

Mark Rober’s Tedx Talk is an important addition to the growing body of research on why games are such an effective tool for learning and retaining information over the long-term. If you’re interested in delving deeper into this wave of emerging science, you can read the interview with Peter C. Brown, author of the bestselling book “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.”[5]

[1] Mark Rober’s YT channel

[2] Fall down seven times, get up eight: The power of Japanese resilience

[3] The Super Mario Effect: A Psychological Trick to Help Achieve Success Painlessly

[4] Super Mario Bros

[5] 9 Best Lines From Mark Rober’s SUPER MARIO EFFECT TEDX Talk

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Dunning-Kruger Effect

People with less skill have less meta cognitive ability, which is necessary to induce awareness about their incompetence. Moreover, without certain minimum expertise, it is hard to perform well. Also, it is hard to know that you are under-performing unless you have the expertise. This double curse of being unskilled and unaware makes the less competent overestimate their competency,

This is known as Dunning Kruger Effect, named after the researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger in their 1999 study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

Graphically it can be described as

The complete article from Britannica is reproduced here below for a comprehensive discussion of the subject[1]:

“Dunning-Kruger effect, in psychology, is a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general. According to the researchers for whom it is named, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the effect is explained by the fact that the metacognitive ability to recognize deficiencies in one’s own knowledge or competence requires that one possess at least a minimum level of the same kind of knowledge or competence, which those who exhibit the effect have not attained. Because they are unaware of their deficiencies, such people generally assume that they are not deficient, in keeping with the tendency of most people to “choose what they think is the most reasonable and optimal option.” Although not scientifically explored until the late 20th century, the phenomenon is familiar from ordinary life, and it has long been attested in common sayings—e.g., “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”—and in observations by writers and wits through the ages—e.g., “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” (Charles Darwin).

“In the studies reported on in their paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” (1999), Dunning and Kruger tested the abilities of four groups of young adults in three domains: humour, logic (reasoning), and grammar. The results supported their predictions that, as compared with their more competent peers, “incompetent individuals…will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria”; that they “will be less able…to recognize competence when they see it” (whether their own or someone else’s); that they “will be less able…to gain insight into their true level of performance” by comparing their own performance with that of others; and, paradoxically, that they can improve their ability to recognize their own incompetence by becoming more competent, “thus providing them[selves] the metacognitive skills necessary to be able to realize that they have performed poorly.”

“Dunning and Kruger emphasized that the effect they had identified does not imply that people always overestimate their own knowledge or competence. Whether they do so depends in part on the domain in which they evaluate themselves (most golfers do not believe that they are better at golf than Tiger Woods) and whether they possess “a minimal threshold of knowledge, theory, or experience” that, given the effect, would lead them to the false belief that they are knowledgeable or competent. Nor does the effect imply that motivational biases and other factors do not also play a role in producing inflated self-assessments among incompetent people.

“Later investigations of the Dunning-Kruger effect explored its influence in a variety of other domains, including business, medicine, and politics. For example, a study published in 2018 indicated that Americans who know relatively little about politics and government are more likely than other Americans to overestimate their knowledge of those topics. Moreover, according to the study, that tendency seems to be more pronounced in partisan contexts in which people consciously think of themselves as supporters of one or the other (Republican or Democratic) major political party.”

Knowing how our skills stack up against others is useful in many ways. But psychological research suggests that we’re not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately. In fact, we frequently overestimate our own abilities. David Dunning describes the Dunning-Kruger effect @ Why incompetent people think they’re amazing?

To learn how this comes about and what one can do to avoid it from happening to you, please watch The Dunning Kruger Effect

The opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the Impostor Syndrome. This is a cognitive bias where someone is unable to acknowledge his or her own competence. In spite of numerous instances of success, they are unable to attribute this success to internal factors. Instead, they externalize the reasons for their competence and attribute it to luck, timing or even deceit.

The perceived fraudulence could involve several aspects like inauthentic ideation, depressive tendencies, social anxiety and high self-monitoring skills. It is unlikely that the Impostor Syndrome has its cause in low self-esteem. People with the Impostor Syndrome are highly critical though. This often results in a strong pressure to excel (Kolligian Jr & Sternberg, 1991). This could also attribute to the fact that the Impostor Syndrome often occurs in academics or highly successful people.

The False-Consensus Effect could also be seen as an opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is a cognitive bias wherein people believe their own behavior and choices are relatively common in comparison to others. They tend to overestimate the prevalence of the behavior in other people, as well as other people’s abilities in comparison to theirs. You could call it unknowingly modest.

Dunning and Kruger also have acknowledged this aspect during the course of their original 1999 study. They mentioned that “across the four sets of studies, participants in the top quartile tended to underestimate their ability and test performance relative to their peers.”

Put simply, incompetence results in overconfidence and extreme competence results in overly modest behaviour. Luckily there is a way around these biases, and it is called meta-cognition, what psychologists call “the knowledge about your own thought processes and the ability to understand your own cognition.” This refers to the ability to think about your own thinking. It is one of the skills that make the human a dominant race, since we can reflect on thoughts and change them consequently.

The typical approach to overcome these biases is contained in the following simple steps:

  • Improve the meta-cognition – The amount of meta-cognition increases when our ability of a certain task increases. We are then able to reflect on our overconfidence and adjust it to a more realistic thought.
  • Seek feedback – Honest and true feedback not only shows where improvements are required, but also gives inputs on how to improve.
  • Question yourself – to look at the subject from a different perspective.
  • Practice makes perfection – Experiencing the Dunning -Kruger effect or opposite syndromes and falling for it several times helps you realize when it could happen again. When a similar situation occurs, think about your response calmly and always consider biases might be involved.[2]

Note: You Tube has several videos on Impostor Syndrome: Here are a few representative ones that may help to understand the effect and also tell us how to overcome it.

We suffer – needlessly – from The Impostor Syndrome.

Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama …. urged girls to resist the “imposter syndrome” she had felt on the way up and fight men for power….

Impostor syndrome, or “impostor phenomenon,” is a term that was first used in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe why many high-achieving people felt like impostors in their respective fields.

One thing no one told you about the imposter syndrome | Christina Whittaker | TEDxAlpharettaWomen

Do you have Impostor Syndrome … too? | Phil McKinney | TEDxBoulder

How you can use impostor syndrome to your benefit | Mike Cannon-Brookes

The Imposter Syndrome Banishing Spell | Dona Sarkar | TEDxUIUC

The Surprising Solution to the Imposter Syndrome | Lou Solomon | TEDxCharlotte


[2] What is the Dunning-Kruger effect, and how to overcome it? by Maarten Bosten

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Paula Principle

The Peter Principle argues that most (male) workers will inevitably be promoted to one level beyond their competence. In his 2017 book, The Paula Principle: how and why women work  below their level of competence[1], writer Tom Schuller shows how women today face the opposite scenario: their skills are being wasted as they work below their competence levels.

Schuller blends interviews and case studies with examples drawn from literature and popular culture to examine how attitudes have changed, from the advent of higher education for women in the 19th century to female dominance at all academic levels today. He also reveals how this has translated ― or failed to translate ― into the lived experiences and careers of professional women, whether they are nursery workers, council employees, journalists, or oil company executives.

Engrossing and full of everyday insights into how gender impacts on working life, The Paula Principle is a well-reasoned analysis of the obstacles that many women face, and a call for us to challenge them on a personal, organisational, and societal level.

The masculine bias in The Peter Principle is a must, for two reasons:

  1. In the world in which Prof. Peter Laurence enunciated the paradox of Peter Principle, the presence of women was not so visible as to be included in the analysis in the book – only one case of a woman in the 40 cases undertaken for study.
  2. Peter’s principle works in exactly the mirror way for women, so much so that it deserves a specific name, Paula’s principle: “Most women work below their level of competence. We can recognise the double bias in what has been said. On the one hand, the habit of not seeing incompetence, when carried by men, which makes the career proceed up to, precisely, the level of incompetence; on the other hand, the difficult recognition of female competence.

Tom Schuller puts forward five reasons for gap in the opportunities or the recognition that the genders get:

  1. Discrimination and values – the overt discrimination and unconscious bias
  2. Structural issues – the historical patriarchal structure that puts more than lion’s share of family care and household management responsibilities on women
  3. Self-confidence and identity- Rightly or not, women tend to or have been made to believe to, have different perceptions than do men with regard to their competence and how it is valued.
  4. Women and men have different kinds of vertical and horizontal social networks and use them for different purposes.
  5. Women and men make different choices about their careers, their work–life balance, and what gives them satisfaction. This factor differs from the other four, in that it describes choices women and men are free to make.

The women may opt for a better quality of life, including working life, by not subjecting themselves to the strains and stresses of working at full or even overextended capacity. They may prefer to look for jobs in sectors that provide the satisfaction of working with people. They may prefer a lateral to a vertical career. Yet how far it is a ‘choice’ in the sense of an entirely cool and objective decision is genuinely open for debate.

This principle reveals two things that should concern us all: a persistent unfairness or injustice in the way education is rewarded; and a waste of proven talent. By “rewards” I don’t mean only financial returns, but also satisfaction from knowing that one’s abilities are being properly employed, and a sense of progression, of moving forward.

The two principles, Peter, and Paula are to a large extent interdependent:  the more women achieve their level of competence, the fewer men there will be who rise above it.  This is not a zero-sum game.  Addressing the issues raised by the Paula Principle might just help us all reach a fairer, and a more efficient, social economy, and in turn better life for women, and men as well.

The book finishes with ‘The Paula Agenda’, setting out practical, specific calls to action for leaders, managers, employees and policymakers alike. In an article in The Guardian, Tom Schuler writes,” women will only get to use their competences fully when both are able to pursue “mosaic” careers which do not conform to the conventional model of full-time continuous employment. …The competence gap between the sexes is increasing faster than the gap between men and women’s pay is closing… We all need to see equality in a more dynamic way that does not focus only on individual times in women’s working lives, but across their whole life course. Concentrating on symmetry between women and men at any single stage in life is not the best way to frame the issue…. t is a system-wide – or, rather, system-deep – principle, not the top layers only, that we need to focus on if we want to see real change.”

Additional references:

Putting the F into Future: Tom Schuller at TEDxHurstpierpointCollege

The Paula Principle How and why women work below their level of competence

[1] The Paula Principle: how and why women work below their level of competence

The Eponymous Principles of Management – Coase’s Ceiling and Floor

Every interaction between two persons faces inherent “internal friction”, caused by everyone’s own biases, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, outlook, natural resistance to change etc. This creates a situation where that person does not fully hear or understand or accept what is being told or is not able to fully explain what he thinks. A similar set of “internal friction” factors operate within the counterpart of that interaction. And then there are factors like their past and present relationships, their perception of why the transaction is (or should be) taking place, what it is ultimately going to lead to, etc. that cause ‘externa; friction’ And as more and more persons directly or indirectly participate in a chain of interaction(s), the organization needs to generate enough power, by way of processes, systems, structures, strategies, even rewards and punishments etc. so that the sum total of all the frictions is overcome and the wheels of organization’s purpose starts, and remains, running.

You may have started thinking that we are leading you towards the eponymous laws of friction, viz. Amontons’ First and Second Law of Friction or Coulomb’s Law of Friction. No, we do not want to revisit the school and college lessons on friction[1]. For the ease of convenience let us accept that we do remember ‘that friction is > linear in the number of independent components. This, for example, is why you can’t build a clock that will run for ten years on a winding, although it would be trivially easy to *design* one.

‘In the context of organizations, each additional person adds more friction until a point — the “Coase’s ceiling” — at which all the energy that the organization can generate goes to overcoming internal friction, and there is none left over to apply to the organization’s nominal purposes.

‘Actual experience implies that Coase’s Ceiling is ~~100 persons, and that it is an extremely hard ceiling indeed. This limitation of Coase’s ceiling would still operate even if the Peter Principle [or for that matter Dilbert Principle or Putt’s Law or Gervais Principle] could be overcome. [2]

Yes, that is a right guess! People may interact with anyone from any hierarchical level to any other person at any other hierarchical level, irrespective of his level of competence (or incompetence in his job, or in the interaction skill, the interaction will have some degree of internal and some degree of external frictions, nonetheless.

Author Clay Shirky, in the chapter two of his book. Here Comes Everybody – The Power of Organizing Without Organizations[3] [4]has presented the term Coase’s Celling and its adjunct term Coase’s Floor.

The Coase’s Ceiling is defined as –

The point above which the transaction costs of managing a standard institutional form prevent it from working well.

It indicates the maximum size an organisation can grow to before the costs of managing its internal complexity rise beyond the gains the increased size can offer. At that point, it becomes more efficient to acquire a resource externally (e.g. to buy it) than to produce it internally. This has to do with the relative transaction costs generated by each way of securing that resource. If these costs decline in general (e.g. due to new communication technologies and management techniques) two things can take place. On the one hand, the ceiling rises, meaning large firms can grow even larger without becoming inefficient. On the other hand, small firms are becoming more competitive because they can handle the complexities of larger markets. This decline in transaction costs is a key element in the organisational transformations of the last three decades, creating today’s environment where very large global players and relatively small companies can compete in global markets. Yet, a moderate decline does not affect the basic structure of production as being organised through firms and markets.

In 2002, Yochai Benkler was the first to argue that production was no longer bound to the old dichotomy between firms and markets. Rather, a third mode of production had emerged which he called ‘commons-based peer production’. Here, the central mode of coordination was neither command (as it is inside the firm) nor price (as it is in the market) but self-assigned volunteer contributions to a common pool of resources. This new mode of production, Benkler points out, relies on the dramatic decline in transaction costs made possible by the internet.  Clay Shirky develops this idea into a different direction, by introducing the concept of the ‘Coasian floor’. [5]

The Coase’s Floor is defined as –

The point below which the transaction costs of a particular type of activity, no matter how valuable to someone, are too high for a standard institutional form to pursue.

These definitions represent the constraints under which institutions, or people, really operate w.r.t. theories from the 1937 paper The Nature of the Firm by Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase to access the various challenges that Transaction Costs pose to institutions. Clay Shirky’s observation in his book, which states as “[Every] institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing that effort. Call this the institutional dilemma–because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice, and the larger the institution, the greater those costs.”, correlates the concept of friction presented at the beginning of this article.


The Ronald Coase’s Nobel prize-winning paper, The Nature of the Firm, in essence, provided a breakthrough on the significance of transaction costs and property rights for the institutional structure and functioning of the economy.. However subsequent discussions emanating from this paper carried the logic to Coase’s Theorem etc, which in turn is considered to be the basis for origin of the terms Coase’s Ceiling and Floor,. That paper, or for that matter even so-called Coase’s Theorem. are essentially subject matters of Economics and as such would be basically beyond the scope of our discussions at this stage.

Here are some representative references that can be used to gain more knowledge of the subject matter –

[1] Friction

[2] Opposite of the Peter Principle by John D. Cook

[3] Here Comes Everybody. (2008) @ Wikipedia

[4] Here Comes Everybody Summary and Review – Clay Shirky

[5] Analysis Without Analysis. Review of Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody”Felix Stalder

The Eponymous Principles of Management – Putt’s Law

The Putt’s Law, formulated by Archibald Putt, in 1981, apparently can be seen as applicable to the technology world. But if one can see beyond the obvious, it is as universally applicable as two other laws – The Peter Principle and The Dilbert Principle- that we have looked into in so far as the issue competence (or incompetence) is concerned! Like such laws and the books that contain these full-grown discussions on the concerned eponymous management principles, the first reading is a matter of sheer joy of a reading humorous satirical book. However, more of what is written sinks in, one starts feeling more serene, as one starts realizing that what is being discussed there is right here, all around, each one of us.

Archibald Putt himself is an accomplished technocrat in a high-technology company. During his work, he has got opportunity to closely analyze the hierarchical intricacies of the high-technology or R& D or advance project management fields. In the first of a series of papers[1] published in Research & Development journal, in 1976, his tenet was that only way to avoid Peter’s level of incompetence syndrome was to create creative incompetence – a high level of incompetence in some area that does not affect one’s present performance but does assure there will be no further offers of promotion. Unlike hierarchies in other fields, creative incompetence is the rule rather than the exception in hierarchies in science and technology. As a result, many low-level positions remain staffed by competent persons who never reach their level of incompetence. However, as is the case in general, successful technocrat would not like to be chained down by the limited ambitions and vision. Any normal (successful) person would aspire for the position of eminence in a technical hierarchy.

The matter is further compounded by the real-life situations when frequently there is no way to judge whether individual is competent or incompetent to hold a given position. In other words, there is no adequate competence criterion for technical managers. In complex technological projects, the outcome of the project is most strongly affected by preexisting but unknown technological factors over which the project manager has no control. In many a case, the goals or objectives are set even before a manager is chosen.

The lack of an adequate competence criterion combined with the frequent practice of creative incompetence in technical hierarchies results in a competence inversion, with the most competent people remaining near the bottom while persons of lesser talent rise to the top. It also provides the basis for Putt’s Law, which can be stated in an intuitive and non-mathematical form as follows:

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.

Archibald Putt put his observation in these papers in more detailed and organised form in a book ‘Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrats’ in the year 1981.  The book presented more than one law and more than one corollary to each law. The book was revised in 2006 as ‘Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrats – How to Win in the Information Age [ISBN: 978-0-471-78893-5; February 2006; Wiley-IEEE Press; 184 Pages].  Since all the laws and the ensuing corollaries were still valid, none these was dropped in the new addition. However there several more additions. The most significant additions relate to advances in information technologies that have changed forever the way people work and interact with each other. New analyses, first revealed in this edition, will be valuable to all who aspire to win in the Information Age. The new revision also includes recently developed Method of Rational Exuberance, which practically guarantees a rapid rise in management. The revised edition also answers the often-asked question, “Can Putt’s Law be broken?”

The book is divided into five parts[2]

  • Part One, “Putt’s Primer,” is an introduction to the guidelines needed to succeed in technological hierarchies.
  • Part Two, “The Successful Technocrat,” consists of 11 chapters that present the tale of I. M. Sharp, who went from being an average high school student to being a successful technocrat.
  • Part Three, “Basic Putt,” consists of seven chapters that introduce a methodology that technologists can use in the management of high technology projects.
  • Part Four, “Advanced Topics,” consists of six chapters that explain how to select projects, evaluate ideas, and thrive in a technological organization.
  • Part Five, “Putt’s Canon,” consists of three chapters that summarize all the laws, corollaries, rules, and precepts presented in the book, serving as an excellent reference.

The author also states in his Preface to the book that ‘some scholarly types have suggested that the writings in this book should be viewed merely as humorous satire. Holding that view can inhibit the success of an otherwise competent technocrat. It is not the view of many successful technocrats who studied and used the lessons of the book. While winning the game, they laughed just as often as others, especially on the way to the bank.’

As we end this discourse, it would be interesting to note that ‘Archibald Putt’ is a pseudonym, whose actual identity is still not revealed. He has served on government advisory committees, managed basic and applied research, and held executive positions in a large multinational corporation. He received his PhD degree from a leading institute of technology and has served as president of an international technical society.

+                  +                  +                  +

For such a talented person, we cannot expect that he has adopted this pseudonym without any purpose. Therefore, some more search is called for.

The Archibald of Archibald Putt can be seen to yield different meanings. The dictionary meaning of Archibald is ‘distinguished and bold.’ And Putt is a gentle stroke that hits a golf ball across the green towards the hole. So, one meaning of Archibald Putt is a gentle push by a distinguished and bold noble man! It is clearly redundant to say that such a gentle push by distinguished and bold person can resonate many times more effectively than any amount of roof-top shouting.

References in English Language and Usage give more interesting insights[3] :

The Online Etymology Dictionary explains: – British World War I military slang for “German anti-aircraft fire” (1915) supposedly is from black humor of airmen dodging hostile fire and thinking of the refrain of a popular music hall song, “Archibald, certainly not!

This source quotes Ernest Weekly’s An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921) with an alternative explanation: – “It was at once noticed at Brooklands [where much aviation development and testing was carried out prior to 1914, and portrayed in the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines] that in the vicinity of, or over, water or damp ground, there were disturbances in the air causing bumps or drops to these early pioneers. Some of these ‘remous’ were found to be permanent, one over the Wey river, and another at the corner of the aerodrome next to the sewage-farm. Youth being fond of giving proper names to inanimate objects, the bump near the sewage-farm was called by them Archibald. As subsequently, when war broke out, the effect of having shell bursting near an aeroplane was to produce a ‘remous’ reminding the Brookland trained pilots of their old friend Archibald, they called being shelled ‘being Archied’ for short. Any flying-man who trained at Brooklands before the war will confirm the above statement”.

Aside: If interested in this matter more, please read “Archibald, Certainly Not!”:  Words and Weapons no.4

If we take this background of ‘Archibald’ then, Archibald Putt would mean a gentle push by an anti-aircraft gun, which is marvelous tongue-in-cheek oxymoron. In the present case, it serves the purpose of the author who also putts the fire power of his tenets like the famed accuracy of German anti-aircraft fire.

[1] ‘The Successful Technocrat’ – a series of papers by Archibald Putt in Research and Development journal in 1976

[2] Putt’s Law – A book review

[3] Why is German anti-aircraft fire called “Archibald”?

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Dilbert Principle

Scott Adams launched his Dilbert comic strips in 1989 in a handful newspapers. The immediate fad of ‘downsizing’ fueled the success of the strip. As result, Scott Adams left his job and took up Dilbert comic strip as his full-time cartoonist occupation. Dilbert is that beloved engineer in Scott Adam’s wry observations, of managerial blunders, oversights, and plain weird behaviour. at the modern workplace in his comic strip of the same name. Dilbert is a typical, trapped in a cubicle cog, working for an unnamed tech company. Dilbert and his coterie of co-workers are tormented by the bottom-line blindness of accounting, the cruelty of human resources, the vacuity of marketing, and, above all, the clueless whims of management, personified by a nameless “pointy-haired” boss.

With such an unflattering view of business, Adams is often deemed an “anti-management guru.” But he has struck a powerful chord in the business world.

In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995, Dogbert states that “leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow”. This is the cornerstone of Scott Adams Dilbert Principle, which is derived from the huge fan-mail emanating from the real-life experiences of his large fan-following.

Scott Adams explained his principle in a 1995 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article[1]. Scott Adams then expanded his study of the Dilbert principle in the form of a book,  Dilbert Principle, The: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions.[2]

The principle is stated as “companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.”

The Dilbert Principle is related to the Peter Principle. In the case of Peter Principle, Peters promoted because of their competence in the present roles, find themselves, ultimately, in a situation where they are no more competent in the new role. Instead, the Dilbert Principle seems to promote incompetent employees (though it works toward the employees’ detriment), to a position where they are no longer blocking the productive workflow of the company.

In effect, The Dilbert Principle assumes that “the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder”. In the WSJ article referred here before, Scott Adams remarks that “Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. …That principle was literally happening everywhere.” (😐)

The Peter Principle realizes that someone particularly competent in one role may not necessarily be s competent in another role, particularly at higher positions. Fully recognising that requirements for each role is extremely specific, one can not be expected to have natural or previously acquired skills to be competent in the new role. The Dilbert Principle seems to recognise such situations and seeks to move such ‘incompetent’ people to a place where they can do the least possible harm to the organization’s interests. In other words, rather than ‘promoting’ them as a reward for the meritorious work, they are quietly placed in the least damaging roles. An earlier formulation of this effect was known as Putt’s Law (which we take up next).

Fortunately, all organizations are not necessarily similar to the Dilbert-workplace, as can be seen in the case of one documented exception of Malden Mills[3]. However, we do not want to enter into a debate whether ‘modern’ workplaces indeed reflect these “laws” truly. But the as one reads these books, whatever be his (or her) position, one does identify oneself with (good or bad or ugly) effects of these ‘laws’.

On the whole, these book(s) have always turned out be good reading, and quite insightful (if you can see through beyond the veil of satire).

[1] Reprinted without permission from The Wall Street Journal, 5/22/95@ The Humor Library

[2] Book Review – The Dilbert Principle by The Amateur Financier

[3] They Call Their Boss a Hero

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The MacLeod Model of Hierarchy

The hierarchy is one of the oldest social institution of the civilized world. More capable, and more fortunate, – All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others – people ultimately have more control over the available resources. This enables them to exercise influence over the ones who have less resources (under their control). This influence gained the form of power over the time.

In 2004 car­too­nist Hugh Mac­Leod published a very simple cartoon entitled “Company Hierarchy”.

On the face of it appears to be one more jargonistic model. So, first we take help of another article[1] wherein these terms have been explained–

Corporate Sociopath (noun) – A person whose professional behavior lacks morality, and whose actions use manipulation and game-planning in order to achieve money, power, and prestige.

The Sociopath is like an athlete on performance enhancing drugs, determined to win at any cost – and willing to do whatever it takes.  The Sociopath is willing to use manipulation and undermining techniques to gain control and is persistent with his intents. He considers himself larger than the cause – the organization – he is working for.

Corporate Loser (noun) – A person who is competent with their work and shows professional morality and integrity and is aware of the lacking morality in corporate leadership (Corporate Sociopaths). Corporate losers do not have loyalty to their company since they are aware of how disloyal the company is to them, however they rarely leave soul-crushing employment because of self-instilled fear, laziness, or lack of creativity.

No wonder they slog at the bottom the pyramid. However, the real world this does not continue for ever. About that, a little later…

Corporate Clueless (noun) – A person who is loyal to their company, completely unaware of how disloyal the company is to them. The corporate clueless person will always follow management directions, honoured to even get the attention of their sociopathic leadership. The Clueless create a communication and hierarchical gap between the sociopaths and the losers, and also can be easily manipulated to be the fall guy for the sociopath when things go wrong.

The Corporate Clueless are enablers for the sociopaths on two fronts:

First, as the loyal ones, they are easy scapegoats.  They allow the sociopaths to take risks for the business while incurring no personal risk because they have a corporate clueless person to act as the fall guy.

Second, the Corporate Clueless create an important shield between the Losers and the Sociopaths. The Sociopaths always want more (e.g. ideas, designs, efficiency, hours logged, etc) for less. The Losers are aware of this, and it makes them angry The Losers are angry, but all they can do is complain to the Clueless – who the Losers know to be incompetent.  And how long the Losers remain angry at someone who is doing their best but is inherently clueless. Thus, they will simply keep absorbing the pressures. They will keep doing the thankless job of calming up the losers, but rarely communicate the real situation to the sociopaths.

By the way, if we want to do away with remembering these negative-sounding jargons, we can replace these three terms with “confident leader”, “extreme loyalist”, and “moral hard worker” respectively. 

MacLeod’s company hierarchy is mostly true, despite it being such a sad and hopeless picture.  But, there is an alternative and it starts with people who are willing to escape the unconsciousness of the three positions within the hierarchy and transcend into Consciousness.

Corporate Conscious (noun) – A person capable of leadership and ingenuity, capable of taking risks with the awareness and acceptance of the potential failure, compassionate towards superiors, peers, and underlings. This person is aware and conscious of the business and politics of the world around them, and capable of using this awareness when the outcome is profitable and moral. Most important, this person is conscious of the fact that the company needs him (or her) more than he (or she) needs the company.

Daniel Miessler[2] calls these terms as Kings, Sages and the Cogs.

In the real life, if one has enough competence to generate the required escape velocity, one can move up the layers. However, those who dot have such velocities of continuing competence, the inevitable force of gravity of incompetence will usually lead to the lower layer.

If you are in the leadership position or aspire to be in the one, you need to be what famous British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, says, be a good butcher while becoming good empathetic person to the people as well.[3] Seems to be a task as impossible as riding two horses. task, isn’t it? That is why the position at the top is very ‘lonely’. There, you are like that trapeze artists who is trundling along a sizzling hot tope, delicately balancing between being ‘transcendental people leader’ and the non-emotional goal-oriented slave driver.

As can be expected, the MacLeod Model of Hierarchy too has inspired a lot of meaningful, or academically worthwhile and of course, humorous discussions..

[1] MacLeod’s Company Hierarchy And The Corporate Conscious

[2] Three Types of Employees

[3] Who are you, anyway?

The Eponymous Principles of Management – Realities at The Other End of The Peter Principle Spectrum

The major impact of publication of the Peter Principle, in the form of a book and it subsequent wider acceptance, was that people started looking at the individual behaviour at a job and the related competence paradigm in very different light.

If there are legions of people who have risen to their level of ‘incompetence’ on one end of the Peter Principle spectrum, at the other end there are as many people who have been stuck in their present groove because they are ‘too competent’.

We will first take up the typical cases which are the outcomes of either the criteria for advancement – laterally or vertically – in a typical organization or the way human ambition tends to satisfy his higher needs of recognition or self-actualization.

  • Some are afflicted by the fear – either of senior management or of the peers – that promoting them vertically or transferring laterally will cause an ‘irreplaceable’ loss of the required competence to handle the complexities of the job. No one would like a ‘necessarily and important’ task to be mishandled by someone who may a be a novice for that job.
  • There could be some who may have chosen to get stuck there, because of their disinclination to leave their comfort zone. Here too, there are different flavours. Some may have become very proficient in handling the tasks and now are not inclined to let go the perquisite of being fortunate to have a job which has now either all ‘known knowns’, or a few ‘known unknowns’.
  • There could be some others whose need for being regarded as ‘such an important person’ would cause them to create situations(s) where they can maintain the status quo. Or, there could be situations wherein the peers or seniors would so strongly feel these persons to be ‘so important’ that they would ensure these persons remain ensconced in their present positions. The people in the older generation may remember the case of great thespian Dilip Kumar, who was ‘typecast’ by the film industry as ‘tragedy king. Playing the tragic role day in and day out in the reel life led to a state of depression in his real life. He was medically advised to ‘plan’ for a mix of ‘light’ films, which then had resulted in the films like Azad (1955) or Kohinoor (1960) or Ram Aur Shyam (1967).

These ‘irreplaceable ones’, or ‘comfort zone seekers’ or ‘very important’ persons would continue to get rewarded (since they do contribute value in that position) till a point is reached where they become ‘too costly’ for the worth of that position in the overall value chain of the business process. That is the time when the luckier ones may be offered an honourable ‘golden handshake (by way of premature ‘voluntary retirement’) and the unluckier ones may get the axe of the downsizing. In the previous century, the external factor that caused such downsizing was the increasing level of automation and now it is the digital technology that has made fast inroads into the (so called) repetitive jobs.

  • There are people who have consciously chosen to remain in certain position. There is one class of people are well aware of their strengths, and weaknesses. They know well what kind of job they will not be able to handle competently. However, there also people who get promoted because of their competence in the present position and immediately being placed in the higher position realize that this was not their cup of tea. The luckier ones can get back to the positions they can competently handle. Remember the case of the ‘great master blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar, who voluntarily relinquished the captainship of the Indian cricket team and chose to concentrate on his strength, the batting. And as is it said, the rest is history.
  • There are people who move from a level of incompetence to a level of competence. These are the people who are chosen for their qualifications and /or experience as a specialist. However, for various reasons, they seem not live up to the expectations. So, they are moved, either laterally or vertically up to a different position. If this movement is by a conscious design where person’s strengths and weaknesses have been objectively analysed with reference to the requirements of the new incumbent position, the person not only performs at a level of competence, but he is also satisfied with his job. I recall here the case of Mike Brearley, the captain of England team from 1977 to 1981.He captained England in 31 tests, with 18 wins and 4 losses. However, his record as a batsman was (rather) modest, having averaged 22.88 in 66 Test innings, without a century.
  • Many a times it is observed that people move from a level where their incompetence is glaring to one where it is not so obvious. It is more difficult to prove a generalist wrong than a detail man [sic][1]. If you need to be convinced on this scenario, please recall ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, a famous story by Hans Christian Anderson.

Another situation is related to the way the organization structure functions ‘when it comes to task delegation of managerial leadership. Here, typically, mangers delegate tasks that they themselves should be completing. In real terms, the managers pass on the task down the hierarchy until it cannot be completed by the person in the last pass off the delegation ladder. This has led to the coining of (so called) Reverse Peter Principle, which postulated as “within a hierarchy tasks tend to be delegated until they have descended to the employees level of incompetence”.[2]

[1] The Inverse Peter PrincipleJohn E

[2] Reverse Peter Principle: within a hierarchy tasks tend to be delegated until they have descended to the employees’ level of incompetence.