Archive for July 2010

Prescriptions on How To Remain Creative and Competent

July 18, 2010

Prescriptions on How To Remain Creative and Competent

Book Review



Title: The Peter Prescription

Author: Dr. Laurence J. Peter

Published: 1972 (William Morrow)

The hot weather in Pune gives me the golden opportunity to dust off my favourite books from my bookshelves, sit in cool comfort and re-read these lovely books sipping chilled ice-cool lemonade.   I have realized that re-reading good books gives me even greater pleasure.

So that’s what I’m going to do for the next few days – browse my bookshelves, re-read some of my favourite books, and tell you about them.   During my college days, in the 1970’s, I read three non-fiction books which had a lasting impact on me.

The first was Parkinson’s Law (written in 1958) based on the author’s study of the British Civil Service and Admiralty.

The other two books were written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter – The Peter Principle (1969) and The Peter Prescription (1972).

These three Management Classics are a must for the bookshelves of every manager.

Written with incisive wit, Parkinson’s Law is a seminal book on the workings of bureaucracy which is essential reading for any student of Management. It is consummate management classic, a masterpiece, which is a “must read” for every manager and management student.

The Peter Principle, a delightful read, provides a superb insight and intriguing study of hierarchiology.

If The Peter Principle is Dr. Peter’s seminal pioneering work, then The Peter Prescription is his definitive book, a wondeful all-time management classic.

If you have not read ‘The Peter Principle’, do read my review of the book, the previous post in my weblog right here.     Understanding ‘The Peter Principle’ is sine qua non, essential prerequisite reading, before you embark upon ‘The Peter Prescription’.   Whereas both Parkinson’s Law and The Peter Principle formulate and substantiate their respective theories, The Peter Prescription is a philosophical self-help treatise on how to achieve happiness in all aspects of life.

Written in his same hilarious inimitable style, Dr. Peter exhorts us to be creative, confident and competent by replacing mindless escalation with life-quality improvement. The message of the book is in congruence with eastern philosophies which focus on inward enhancement rather than outward escalation.

In his introduction Dr. Peter states: “Many authors offer answers before they understand the questions…….. I understand the operation of the Peter Principle, and the remedies offered are the product of years of research……… prescriptions will lead to great personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment.”   The book, interspersed liberally with quotations and case studies, comprises three parts.

The first, titled Incompetence Treadmill explores why conventional solutions not only fail to alleviate the effects of the Peter Principle but may actually serve to escalate the problems.

His analysis of ‘marital incompetence’ is hilarious. A bachelor is a man who looks before he leaps – and then does not leaphe concludes.

With the flattening of hierarchies, I wonder whether, in today’s world, there still exist any Professional Processionary Puppets – the organization-men.

It would be worthwhile to look dispassionately, from a distance, into your own organization for similarities to prototypes adorning bureaucracies of yesteryear in order to ascertain whether your own organisation is a modern state-of-the-art progressive one or a rigid hierarchy bound archaic organization heading for decay.   The meat of the book is in Part Two, titled ‘Protect your Competence’ which elucidate a total of 25 “prescriptions” on how to remain creative and competent throughout your working and personal life.

There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that to enjoy it.

The prescriptions, which are condensed wisdom of the ages, guide us on how to achieve this cardinal aim of life.

“The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness” Dr. Peter quotes with elan in this delightful book.   Competence is a system-governed factor – your competence is as viewed by your bosses (like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, your competence lies in the eyes of your boss!) and thus the yardsticks of competence are governed by the HR policies in your organization.   Why is everyone around you so competitive…?

Do the HR policies in your organization encourage competition, rat race and reward escalationary behaviour, and if so, what can you do about it…?

Maybe you can find some answers by exploring the prescriptions.   Let’s have a look at Peter Prescription 3 – The Peter Panorama – which I have used to great effect, which comprises listing your satisfying activities, joyful experiences, pleasant reminiscences, and after introspection make a second list of those which are feasible to do regularly and then make sure you do them whenever feasible.

Enjoyable events begin to crowd out the unpleasant and you feel happy. And, in the extreme, there are prescriptions like utter irrelevance – hilariously effective.   Do read, experiment, and try to imbibe the prescriptions in your professional and personal life, and experience the results for yourself.

Introspect, evolve a philosophy of life, fine tune the art of living, concentrate your efforts within your area of competence, and have an improved quality of life consisting of abiding competence and contentment.

If you cannot be happy here and now, you can never be happy. Part Three of the book is written from the management perspective giving 42 “prescriptions” to Managers to contain and mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle in their domains and manage for competence.

It views The Peter Principle from a manager’s point of view, and assuming the manager himself is not a victim of the Peter Principle, offers valuable tips in the HR Management, particularly recruitment, promotion and selection.

Obviously, outsourcing wasn’t that prevalent way back then in the sixties and seventies, otherwise organizations may even have ‘outsourced’ incompetence.

Isn’t it a brilliant idea to outsource incompetence…? In the outsourcing jargon, let’s call it IPO – Incompetence Process Outsourcing…!!!

Maybe some are doing it already…!

As stated in the introduction, the purpose of The Peter Prescription is to help you explore how you yourself can mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle by avoiding the final placement syndrome, and as a manager, it tells you how to keep your employees at their appropriate competence levels so that they remain happy and productive and help achieve mutual optimal benefit.   First read and understand The Peter Principle.
And then apply to your own life The Peter Prescription and experience genuine personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment.  

Book Review of The Peter Prescription



Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010

Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this Book Review.