Sunday, March 16, 2008

Peter principle and definition of success.....

"In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

This is the Peter Principle which was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1968 book The Peter Principle.

It was a wet evening today, just the kind of evening when you would wish that you had a steaming mug of coffee, a roaring fire and friends to chat with. Well it was just a wee bit different, it was a wet evening, but it was just two friends over hot burgers and coke meeting up at Indiana's, Bangalore. Oh yes, we had a copy of The Ten-Day MBA by Steven A. Silbiger with us.

Here we were, the three year work ex, tobacco salesman, and the fresh, yet to cut his teeth, IR manager; talking about everything, catching up with what common acquaintances are up to, what life is all about, what are the prospects of a jump etc etc, when the discussion turned towards success. What does success mean? Who is a successful person? Are CEO's the only successful people? What about the 179 odd people out of a batch of 180 who dont become the real famous hot shot CEOs. The aam junta might not know who a B. Muthuraman or a J.J. Irani is. But does that make them less successful than a Vijay Mallya?

Or is the guy who passed out of a B-school, decided to take life easy, has found time for his family and for his passion of painting, earns enough to stay in one of the upmarket locales of the city, drive a reasonably decent car, kids go to a good school and are good performers, is he successful. He may not have achieved the kind of life his batch mate did. But can we brand him as not being successful? The question comes down to the alumni meets that B-schools have every year. Who are the people who attend? The top honchos are there but are few in numbers, the majority are the run of the mill people. These are the people you would meet in your daily life and yet not turn and stare.

Success, is a self actuated process. It is that which brings me joy. If I am happy, if I have no regrets for the life I led, if there is no it could have been like this if I had done that thing syndrome, I feel that one is successful. Material wealth, doesn't matter in the long run, position, power, prestige, nothing matters. It is that feeling in the autumn of your life, when you can look back and say, this was a life well lived, that is a measure of success. What could have been, what could be done, what I dint do, those are immaterial. What matters is what I did, how many people did I make a difference to.

This brings me back to the Peter Principle. The principle says man rises to the level of his incompetence, and if you actually sit back and analyze the lives of people you know, take a third party independent view, and look at their lives, their career paths, their life paths follows the equation

y=m ln(x) -b

In the long run, it plateaus out. And initial thrust depends on how good you are. An academic topper will perform better than the last guy who will perform better than the guy who never made it. It is just one of the ways of the world. And thats when Peter principle kicks in, when you thrust a donkey into the world of race horses, the donkey performs, but to his potential, and which might be better than the performance of the average donkey, but is no where near the performance of the race horse.

But, if the donkey decides to sniff the grass, and observe the crowd, if he decides that he is here for the fun of the run and not necessarily to be the winner, it will be a much more enjoyable race for him as well as for the guy riding him. And at the end, when the race is over, everyone is led to a common stable, where they get the same oat to eat. So maybe it is time, that we decided to look around and sniff the air, look at the grass, the meadow and the bright blue sky, for often in our quest for achieving the top of the pyramid, we let life pass us by and then, in the end, it is always, "I was the topper of my batch and could have done such and such, but....". Life is calling, it is up to us to take the plunge.