01 July 2010

An Indifferently-Done Job

Remember the book The Peter Principle (1968)? Its author, Dr Laurence J Peter, subtitled it Why Things Always Go Wrong. As I understand it, his basic reason was that people of limited talent, having proven their competence at lower levels of responsibility within an organization, rise to a certain level for which they are not competent, and then get allowed to stay there.

I don't disagree with him - at least not completely. I just wonder sometimes if he answered his own question completely. After all, what is it that makes individuals in key positions of power incompetent? Is it simply that they lack the ability, the native smarts, the raw intelligence to do that particular job well? Or is it rather that (at least in some key instances) they've reached so high and illustrious a level in their operation that they simply can't be bothered? A level where a certain problem has become, almost literally, beneath them? Or so high a level that they consider it an imposition even to listen to those functionaries whose immediate concern that problem is?

I suspect one of the reasons why so many things get done so badly, in this present busier-than-thou world (despite all the rosters of impressively-credentialed people behind them), is that the Peter Principle was off by a few centimeters. Leaders become our biggest liability, not by being steadily promoted through the ranks of an organization, and then reaching their penultimate levels of incompetence. It is when they reach the very tops of their organizations, and so attain their ultimate levels of indifference.

Now I'm not just thinking here of Messrs Hayward and Obama with respect to a certain body of water. I'm thinking too of all the many Donald Rumsfelds, and Hamid Karzais, and Richard Fulds, and even Richard M Daleys, who either continue to flourish at or are rapidly approaching the topmost levels of their respective spheres of power. It seems to me that, quite the opposite of our Maker, we everyday fallen humans don't just do worse with certain details the higher we go up the human mountain. I get the distinct impression there are some details we just don't like. We have a hard time seeing why they should they exist at all. Or in any case why we of all people should have to worry about them. And in particular those details that affect some other people - usually lesser folk living in the foothills - whom we may never get a clear view of from our mighty outlook-point atop the mountain.

How many times, I wonder, on the eve of some unforeseen mishap or even disaster, have certain very busy important people been approached with a "minor" issue needing resolution, only to respond (whether verbally or silently):
"Really? And since when am I supposed to be concerned with that?"

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