Tuesday, April 07, 2009

In praise of simple competence

Bob Sutton on the importance of simple competence:

The Peter Principle made us laugh, but it also made us aware of the importance of simple competence —- and of how elusive it could be. When people do their jobs well, Dr. Peter argued, society can't leave well enough alone. We ask for more and more until we ask too much. Then these individuals—promoted to positions in which they are doomed to fail-— start using a bag of tricks to mask their incompetence. They distract us from their crummy work with giant desks, replace action with incomprehensible acronyms, blame others for failure, cheat to create the illusion of progress.

If Dr. Peter were alive today, he'd find that a new lust for superhuman accomplishments has helped create an almost unprecedented level of incompetence. The message has been this: Perform extraordinary feats, or consider yourself a loser.

We are now struggling to stay afloat in a river of snake oil created by this way of thinking. [...]