Sunday, July 20, 2008

Parkinson's Law . The rise to the highest level of incompetence Book review

C. N. Parkinson got this little book first published in 1957. In it he describes how to
climb up the career ladder within an organisation. In order to achieve that it is
necessary to boost bureaucracy (the Wiki entry to Parkinson is a bit weak, there
is a bit to Parkinson) increase the size the size of the organisation whatever that is,
a business or government.

Boosting the bureaucracy increases the importance of the department, of the
manager, of the bureaucrat. The bigger that gets, the better. It's all getting ever
more inefficient, becoming a purpose just for its own sake. And hence, the
necessary conditions are set for the aspiring manager to rise to the highest level:
the highest level of incompetence.

That's the highest level achievable in life, in an organisation, in politics, the position
that enjoys the most prestige, the most admiration and is regarded as most
powerful.  It then also enjoys the morbidity of the half witted fascination of the fatal.

Not in the book, because it was a later development, is the large spending on
advertising and PR such managers initiate, with the organisations money of course,
in order to have a lot of media presence, lots of fuss made about them, praises
of all kinds by such lavishly sponsored media, journalists.

This goes on until the manager, the rising star, is becoming too successful in his
way, too expensive his policy and a real problem for which he is finally rewarded
with a big compensation for leaving the company, getting the golden handshake.

Parkinson for instance tells how important it is for someone making a career like this
to meet the right kind of people, for instance inviting crucial people as well as
supporters to diner. Forty or fifty years that meant usually the conspiracy of the now
old fashioned hypocrites, the busy bodies of the local church and the likes.

When such a manager or office holder eventually gets the golden hand shake he is a
rich man, made for life and can comfortably live the rest of his life from what he has
made and the usually high pensions coming with it.

Parkinson got to know this problem in the military after WW II. There he could
observe that kind of growing bureaucracy that, once established, became a factor of
itself, had to be maintained for it's own sake.

Otherwise this rise to the highest level of incompetence is also known as the
"Peter principle", named so after another author, Laurence J. Peter, who
took it all a step further and wrote competently about the highest level of
incompetence. The book was in any case really prophetic, everything he
pointed out as problematic was brought about, kind of created. For instance
the way the banking industry grew into dinosaurs and became a serious
problem for the economies.

When Parkinson wrote this book, the world was still a
sleepy place compared to today.
For instance he talks of the thickness of carpets in offices
to showt the importance of the manager.

Here an article in the UK Times, to compare to today:
April 15, 2007


"City high flyers are spending like there's no tomorrow"

An article written just in time before the credit crunch.
That's just one example if one follows up on Parkinson,
takes a look at real life after reading.
Parkinson's Law can also be observed in politics.

Contemporary examples of people achieving the highest level of
incompetence are the CEO's of banks. They were masters in
creating huge organisations with highly problematic purposes like
inventing the credit derivatives and dealing with them. And who,
when things blow up get their huge bonuses and pensions while
leaving behind torched earth.
They were also lavish spenders on advertising and PR, giving
the media a reason to make a issue out of them, dragging things
along and making matters worse.
A look into the blog CEO watch can be recommended.

No comments: