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The Pizza Principle

I couldn't help hearing half a conversation between my wife and one of her friends. They were speaking on the phone about something that had captured their interest. The friend had been listening to the radio and heard a discussion on a framework that she found really interesting. It was called “the pizza principle”.

When the conversation ended I had to ask my wife about this intriguing principle. She said I should know about it as I am supposed to be an expert on frameworks.

I had to confess my ignorance. "No, I've never heard of it, what's it about?"

"Well, it's something to do with people getting promoted and not being able to do their job as well as predicted."

And then the penny dropped.

"I think you'll find it's called the "Peter principle". It is a sort of framework I suppose. It is named after Laurence Peter, a Canadian academic who, in 1969, published a book called "Why Things Always Go Wrong". He advanced the view that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to the level of their incompetence and that work is usually accomplished by those who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. The argument goes that someone doing a good job gets promoted only to find that they haven’t the necessary skills for the new job. It happens regularly in a sales force. The best salesperson gets promotion but they may not be a particularly good manager and could fail in the new role. Let's say they do perform well in the new role, it is only a matter of time before they receive another promotion. Eventually they will end up in a job where they lack the necessary skills."

"My goodness" my wife retorts. "Does this mean that all managers are incompetent?"

"Definitely not" I say. "Some will be in the stage of doing their job really well and poised for promotion. Others will be offered promotion but know their limitations and be happy to stay in the job that they are doing well. And then there are companies that are ruthless in weeding out those managers who are not performing well. Jack Welch, "neutron Jack" of GE fame, used to get rid of 10% of his worse performing staff every year."

My wife can only take so much of these frameworks. "I'm getting hungry" she says. "What do you fancy for dinner?"

I don't need to think. "There's only one thing for it, it has to be pizza."

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