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The Peter Principle Revisited: Random Promotions Work Better

Three Italian scientists believe they have found a way to beat the “Peter Principle” that fouls so many corporate hierarchies – promote people randomly instead of by merit. The study, by Andrea Rapisarda, Alessandro Pluchino and Cesare Garofaloa of the University of Catania in Italy, made The New York Times Magazine’s 2009 “Year in Ideas” issues.

The Peter Principle, establishes the idea that organizations promote individuals to the level of their incompetence, that is you get promoted until the job exceeds your abilities and there you stay. Rapisarda, Pluchino and Garofaloawork, suggest that past performance in one position is not the best indicator of future performance in another position.  The new positions requires competencies that the individual was not required to rely on the past position, they said.

In their study, “The Peter principle revisited: A computational study,” published in the scientific journal Physica, the three apply game theory to occupational promotion, “alternately promoting the absolute best and absolute worst performers” and got the same results or better.

As Rapisarda points out, if you could know for sure that the people being promoted would excel in their new jobs, that would be the best strategy of all. But if you aren’t sure — and in the real world, we rarely are — then random works better.

(Image by Jan Tik via Flickr cc 3.0)

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