The Peter Principle

I was talking with someone the other day about career advancement, and I remember remarking something that is probably pretty contrarian to what most people think of when they consider career advancement; and that statement was this: "don't become preoccupied with career advancement as the expense of knowledge and experience advancement."  In other words, learn what you need to learn today to prepare you for where you'd like to be tomorrow, and don't rush the process.  This idea reminds me a of a popular phenomenon called The Peter Principle. 

The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by educator Laurence J. Peter and published in 1969. It states that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and "managers rise to the level of their incompetence."  The Peter principle is a special case of a ubiquitous observation: Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. 

Peter noted that there is a strong temptation for people to use what has worked before, even when this might not be appropriate for the current situation.  In an organizational structure, assessing an employee's potential for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job. This eventually results in their being promoted to their highest level of competence and potentially then to a role in which they are not competent, referred to as their "level of incompetence". The employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching their career's ceiling in an organization.

We want to avoid this situation at all costs.  To do so requires vision and patience.  Vision has a tendency to pull us towards our target, albeit gradually.  The saying "if you aim at nothing you'll hit it every time" certainly applies as it's important to know where you're going.  But like a good pot of chili tastes better the next day, the ingredients needs time to work together to produce the desired outcome, which requires patience.  It's then leadership's job to exercise both and protect those with ambition from advancing too fast.  

"You can't build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you're going to have a strong superstructure." - Gordon B. Hinckley

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