From Dr. Peter: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. In other words: the skills which get an employee promoted are often different from the skills the employee needs to be successful in the new position.
Let’s introduce the “Peter State”, a probabilistic quantum superposition of many bad decisions and a few good ones. Employees in Peter State are Peter Qubits (PQ). PQs will spend a lot of time hiding their incompetence and making mostly wrong decisions (for example promoting others to PQs)
IT folks are prone to becoming PQs as technical knowledge often propels them to management positions where social intelligence, strategic thinking, and communication skills are becoming more important than the ability to write a device driver or zone and mask a SAN array from command line. Since management positions come with higher compensation and prestige, it is hard to resist and even more difficult to step down.
The following questions come to mind:
- How can I detect, whether I am a PQ?
- What can I do to avoid becoming a PQ?
1. PQ Self-Diagnosis
This is tough. People are surprisingly inaccurate when it comes to understanding themselves. As Daniel Kahneman puts it beautifully: “We are subjective about ourselves and we don’t even know it”. But fortunately there is a good indicator based on the “flow” as defined by the prominent positive psychology professor Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. The flow is “a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”
Basically, if you find yourself fully immersed in your work like technology research or collaboration with colleagues on architecting a new solution, you are in the flow. Time seems to fly and you experience a unique high. This happens when your work is closely matching your abilities. The work has to be challenging enough to be interesting but easy enough not to cause frustration and anxiety. It also helps if the outcomes are meaningful based on one’s core values.
If you regularly experience the flow at work, you are not a PQ. Otherwise, you may in Peter State.
2. How can I avoid becoming a PQ?
One needs to understand his or her abilities and capacity to adopt and learn. Establish external reference points by finding mentors and asking trusted friends for feedback. If you can, pilot the new position to see if it would provide you with a new kind of flow. And if the answer is “no”, sabotage any attempt for promotion in harmless ways. Parking on the CEOs reserved spot, sending your boss Dilbert cartoons or publicly declaring the COO’s meeting “groupthink” works well. Just don’t overdo it, because you can loose your flow by getting fired too.
If you are looking for motivation, Bernard Moitessier’s Long Way is a great read. He chose to continue sailing instead of fame, fortune, and winning the first around-the-world non-stop solo sailing race.