This Day In Literary History
On September 16th, 1919, the famous Canadian writer and educator Dr. Laurence J. Peter was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He later emigrated to the United States.
In 1941, at the age of 22, Laurence J. Peter began a career as a teacher. In 1963, he received a doctorate in education from Washington State University. The following year, he moved to California.
There, he became an Associate Professor of Education, the Director of the Evelyn Frieden Centre for Prescriptive Teaching, and later, Coordinator of Programs for Emotionally Disturbed Children at the University of California.
In 1968, four years after he'd arrived in California, Peter wrote and published a book that made him famous. The Peter Principle was a masterpiece of shrewd satire and social science, examining the flaws of hierarchical organizations such as corporations.
The "Peter Principle" itself stated the following:
In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence ... in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties ... work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
Peter provides examples of how employees who are not qualified to manage are promoted to middle management because of the skills they showed in performing their previous jobs.
These skills usually don't qualify them to be managers. Thus, the middle manager has reached his highest level of competence, and further promotion simply raises him to incompetence.
In addition to his famous principle, Peter also coined the term hierarchiology - the study of hierarchies and the principles of hierarchical systems in human society. He described it this way:
Having formulated the Principle, I discovered that I had inadvertently founded a new science, hierarchiology, the study of hierarchies. The term hierarchy was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks.
The contemporary meaning includes any organization whose members or employees are arranged in order of rank, grade or class. Hierarchiology, although a relatively recent discipline, appears to have great applicability to the fields of public and private administration.
Peter's book has proven to be even more influential these days than when it was originally published. It inspired the work of cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, who titled one of his own books The Dilbert Principle.
Peter would follow The Peter Principle with more works, including The Peter Pyramid or Will We Ever Get The Point?, Why Things Go Wrong, The Peter Plan, and The Peter Prescription.
In his final years, up until his death, Peter became involved with and helped to manage the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Humboldt County, California.
The unique annual event is a race of sculptures that double as human powered, amphibious, all-terrain vehicles that can run on land or water.
Called "the triathlon of the art world," the event is a three day cross country race where the sculpture vehicles must cross sand, mud, pavement, a bay, a river, and some steep hills.
While Humboldt County hosts the World Championship race, other Kinetic Sculpture Races take place throughout the United States and around the world.
Laurence J. Peter died in 1990 from complications following a stroke. He was 70 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"Television has changed the American child from an irresistible force into an immovable object." - Laurence J. Peter
Today's video features Dr. Laurence J. Peter discussing his most famous book, The Peter Principle, on BBC TV. Enjoy!