Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Back in 2005, I came face-to-face with the Peter Principle, popularized by the book of the same name by Dr. Laurence J. Peter. Basically, the Peter Principle says that in hierarchies, individuals rise to the level of their own incompetence and then rise no more.

I was, kindly said, an incompetent editor at the Post Register. Planning has never been my long suit, and a newspaper editor's job entails a lot of planning. I recognized that I was incompetent at it then, and still recognize it now. Incompetence isn't a pleasant thing to recognize in yourself, but I believe that it's better recognized by yourself quickly so that you can do something about it. Back in 2005, my idea of doing something about it was changing careers. That was a frightening experience, as at the time I had no idea what career I wanted to go into. That year I did bricklaying, early-morning retail and telemarketing. I could have gotten better at the first. The second didn't pay nearly enough. The third quickly reassured me that it was not only newspaper editing that I was incompetent at.

So now I'm a technical writer. I'm happy. I feel competent. Feeling competent is a great feeling. I now know, however, that if the opportunity arises to become the technical writing lead that I will not be taking it. I've evolved into one of those characters Dr. Peter says understand where their level of incompetence is and do what they can never to reach that level again.

Does that mean I'm lazy, or unwilling to stretch my abilities and comfort zones? To the first, no. To the second, yes and no. An unwillingness to stretch may in part be an unwillingness to learn, but it may be at the same time the recognition that stretching often leads to breaking. I've felt what it's like to be broken, and it's not a lot of fun, folks.

So now I'm facing a similar situation -- thankfully not at the day job where I can demonstrate my competence. I have to decide if I want to continue stretching, or if I want to avoid breaking. It's going to be a tough decision.

No comments: