A Dangerous Corollary

August 21, 2012

One of the most difficult challenges I face in my professional life is is maintaining a healthy working relationship with people who I believe are deeply incompetent. Incompetency is, for me, extremely difficult to stomach — far more difficult than, say, laziness or apathy, because whereas those might point to an attitude problem, incompetency reveals that the basic skills necessary to effectively perform daily tasks are missing. To further exacerbate the issue, one of my [many] personal character flaws is that I find it extremely difficult to relate to or to support someone I do not respect. Because of this, I’ve not only become acutely aware of the truth behind the Peter Principle, but I’ve also picked up on an even more dangerous corollary that’s become more and more prevalent in the workplace. For the sake of discussion, I’ll refer to it as the Napier Principle.

The Peter Principle stipulates that the phenomenon of systemic incompetency in the workplace can be attributed to a fundamental flaw in corporate advancement strategy. That is, if employees are promoted based on their successes, they will naturally tend to rise to their level of incompetence, or to the point where they cease to succeed. While this is concerning, I’ve noticed a growing trend where companies attempt to promote employees out of their level of incompetence.

This, to me, is both far more disconcerting, and absolutely absurd, because with the Peter Principle, promotions cease at an employee’s level of incompetency; but with the Napier Principlethat’s exactly where they start! Don’t believe me? What about that one middle-manager at your company who used to be an engineer, but was terrible at it, and thus promoted to be kept away from the codebase? Somehow, their inability to perform their task effectively lead to a leadership role over others who could. Watch out for this: it is cancer to an organization. Run from this type of company, unless you’ve been hired to address this type of problem. All the Napier Principle leads to is a disconnect between the manager and the employee, and resentment. Oh, and more incompetency.


John is a serial conversationalist who spends entirely too much time engulfed in problem domains he knows nothing about and has no earthly business trying to learn. He can occasionally be found at your local coffee shop writing algorithms and trying to think deep thoughts.