The Peter Principle: Interesting Concept

Posted: March 16, 2008 in digital culture, edushifts, theory

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”

Dr. Laurence J. Peter

I had never heard of Dr. Laurence J. Peter. I came across the above quote in the “Quote of the Day” flake in my PageFlakes feed reader. I looked up Dr. Laurence Peter in Wikipedia and it is here where I was introduced to the “Peter Principle“. According to Wikipedia, the Peter Principle states that “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence” meaning that in an organization, individuals who excel in their jobs are often promoted to positions that require skill sets that vary significantly from those used successfully in their previous jobs. This leads to incompetence as the promoted do not necessarily have the skill sets required for their new job. Another way of saying this is that just because individuals excelled in their previous job, this success will not automatically translate into success in their new jobs because the skills required are not the same.

Back to the quote, it seems obvious that a bureaucracy has a vested interest in the status quote but if, as Laurence Peter states, the quo has lost its status, then the effectiveness of the bureaucracy is lost as well. It appears to me that this quote connects quite well to other quotes I have heard. The first one is apparently attributed to Dr. Seuss (although I have never been able to find where Dr. Seuss used this line): “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” The second one is a quote from Einstein: “You cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them.” The connection to education and mobile learning is that if we want improvements, if we want students to excel in today’s world and engage them in a way that helps to develop 21st century skills, we can’t keep doing things the same way in our classrooms.

There are interesting implications for education here. I’ll have to look into this some more…


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