No, despite its name, the Peter Principle doesn’t have anything to do with Peter Parker, though you could say that it relates to great power and great responsibility. At least tangentially. It also has nothing to do with billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, though it does relate to the world of business.
Instead, the Peter Principle is a concept that was first developed by Canadian educator and psychologist Laurence J. Peter. He later expanded on the theory in the appropriately titled The Peter Principle in 1969, a book he co-authored with Canadian playwright Raymond Hull.
Here’s the weird part. They may have first intended for the book to be satire, but it has since opened up some incredible conversation about the world of business and how we go about our professional lives. To put it simply, the Peter Principle states that employees will tend to rise through the hierarchical structure of an organization until they reach a level of respective incompetence.
An Illustration of the Peter Principle
The best way to understand this principle — I’ll get to how it applies to our world of professional blogging and Internet marketing in just a moment — is through a simple hypothetical example. Let’s say there’s a fresh college graduate. We’ll call him Harry.
Harry graduates with a business degree from a respectable college and picks up an entry-level position at The Big Corporation.
He’s just another nameless and faceless cog in the giant corporate machine at this point, working as an assistant to one of the executives. At some point, Harry demonstrates some keen insight and initiative in an important client meeting, landing a healthy contract for The Big Corporation. Excellent! Harry gets promoted to junior sales. Month over month, Harry grows those figures. As time goes on, he gets promoted to senior sales and then to sales manager.
That’s all great news.
The thing is that Harry has no management skills. He’s not effective at delegating and he has a hard time motivating staff in his department. But, Harry is an excellent salesperson. And so, Harry has now reached a level of “respective incompetence,” insofar that he’s not doing well as a manager. He’s risen as far as he can go at this point, because he won’t be promoted to higher management or executive positions without an improvement in his management skills.
What Does This Have to Do With Me?
You may have noticed that when you start an online business of your own, as would be the case with running a blog or growing your reach as an online influencer, there isn’t the same kind of hierarchical organization as you might find in a traditional corporation. You don’t get promoted, because all the tasks from every “department” fall on you from the very beginning.
True, there are tasks that you can outsource, and indeed you’ll need to if you want to earn more money, but the same kind of hierarchy simply does not exist here. Whereas Harry was able to focus on his strengths and stay in his lane for the early part of his career, you can’t do that as a solopreneur.
You can’t just be in sales. You can’t just demonstrate that you’re great at closing the deal and landing big contracts. In addition to all of that, you have to show some aptitude for marketing, accounting, project management, creative, production, logistics, office management, and all the rest of it. As a solopreneur, you wear all the hats, all at once.
And there is no room for any incompetence, respective or respectable or not. You can’t wait to get promoted to some cushy middle management job, because you are both the CEO and the grunt intern, all rolled into one. This is all yours.
So, like so many other aspects of the traditional workplace and conventional corporate environment, we have to discard the Peter Principle in the context of blogging and online solopreneurs. Forget the rules. Make your own.