The Concept of Hierarchy and the Discipline of Hierarchology
Dr. Laurence Johnston Peter (1919-1990) était un éducateur et “hierarchiologist”, mieux connu du grand public pour la formulation du principe de Peter. Avec le principe de Peter, Dr. Peter a aussi inventé “hierarchiology” comme la science sociale concerné avec les principes de base des systèmes organisés hiérarchiquement dans la société humaine. Ayant formulé le principe, j’ai découvert que j’avais par mégarde fondé une nouvelle science, hierarchiology, l’étude des hiérarchies. Le terme hiérarchie a été initialement utilisé pour décrire le système de gouvernement de l’Eglise par des prêtres classés dans les rangs. La signification contemporaine comprend toute organisation dont les membres ou employés sont disposés dans l’ordre hiérarchique, grade ou de classe. Hierarchiology, mais une discipline relativement récente, semble avoir une grande applicabilité pour les domaines de l’administration publique et privée.
Formulation of the Principle
The Peter Principle is a special case of a ubiquitous observation: Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. This is “The Generalized Peter Principle”. It was observed by Dr. William R. Corcoran in his work on corrective action programs at nuclear power plants. He observed it applied to hardware, e.g., vacuum cleaners as aspirators, and to administrative devices, such as the “Safety Evaluations” used for managing change. There is much temptation to use what has worked before, even when it may exceed its effective scope. Dr. Peter observed this about humans. In an organizational structure, the Peter Principle’s practical application allows assessment of the potential of an employee for a promotion based on performance in the current job; i.e., members of an hierarchical organization eventually are promoted to their highest level of competence, after which further promotion raises them to incompetence. That level is the employee’s “level of incompetence” where the employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching their career’s ceiling in an organization.The employee’s incompetence is not necessarily a result of the higher-ranking position being more difficult. It may be that the new position requires different work skills which the employee may not possess. For example, an engineer with great technical skill might get promoted to project manager, only to discover he lacks the interpersonal skills required to lead a team. Thus, “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.” In addition, Peter suggested the idea of “Super-Competence” in an inappropriately low position. He proposed that this employee will have two paths dependent upon their leadership. Competent People Managers will promote this employee for the betterment of the company. Incompetent People Managers will most likely feel intimidated and/or threatened by this employee. This employee is a disruption to their perceived natural order and will almost certainly drive them to set this employee up for failure and/or dismiss them. Organizations with poor leadership cannot handle this type of disruption to their hierarchical structure. A Super-Competent employee “…violates the first commandment of hierarchical life with incompetent leadership: [namely that] the hierarchy must be preserved…”
The Deformations Induced by Hierarchical Pressures
The Behavioral Symptoms
The employee rationalize his incompetence by complaining that he cannot keep in close enough touch with collegues and subordinates. To remedy this, he installs several telephones on his desk, one or more intercommunication devices with buttons, flashing lights and loudspeakers, plus one or more voice-recording machines. The phonophiliac soon forms the habit of using two or more of these devices at the same time; this is an infailible sign of galloping phonophilia. Such cases degenerate rapidly and are usually considered incurable. Phonophilia, by the way, nowdays increasingly seen among women who have reached their level of incompetence as housewives. Typically, an elaborate microphone-loud-speaker-switchboard-telephone system is installed in the kitchen to enable such a housewife to keep in constant, close, simultaneous contact with her neighbors, her dinning nook, her klaundry room, her play room, her back porch and her mother..” 
In most modern times, with the advent of wireless telecommunication, cell phones and social networks, an incredibly vast amount of people who have reached their level of incompetence as administrator of their own lives always have their portable device nearby and are rendering themselves available almost 24 hours a day for everyone who has their number for chat, random conversations and pointless textos. Not unlike the corporate managers who need to call a tele-conference with 20 people before making a big business decision, ordinary people now need the feedback of their friends, acquintances and families in real time about even the most trivial decision or event in their lives. Incompetent business managers now have many options in the expression of their favorite manias with the advents of pagets, cellphones, video-phone, GPS at such a point that this not such a stretch to say that they are now almost constantly in a hive-mind with their bosses, immediate subordonates and even the databases and the computer network of the business itself.
Papyrophoby is a bureacratic pathology sympomatic of the “final placement” that is as wide spread as it is easy to spot. Every compagny, institution, or office has at least one of their employe which displays an extreme tendency toward minimalism in the dispositon of his office, cubicle or workplace and who imperatively need a paperless asceptized environment to feel in control of the situation. The typical papyrophobe, Peters tells us, “cannot tolerate papers or books on his desk or, in extreme cases, anywhere in his office.” The reason that explains this behavior, Peters tells us, is probably the fact that “every such piece of paper is a reminder of him to the work that he is not able to do: no wonder he hates the sight of it.” This is why the classical papyrophobe will make a virtue of his phobian behaviour and, by “keeping a clean desk,” as he calls it, he hopes to create the impression that he despatches all his business with incredible promptitude.
In the digital age the papyrophobe is usually someone obsessed with wireless technology which doesn’t want any wires or external information storage devices hanging around on his desk. All they want on their desk only a mouse, a keyboard and a screen. Most of them are probably dreaming about the day they will have a high management job which will allow them to have one of those groovy furnitureless offices containing only coaches, pillows and TV. Curiously, most of them are very found of macintosh products which espouses the famous minimalist new age design and who have models where the screen and te computer itself are merged into a one inch thick screen that eliminate the presence of the worstation (or “tower”) altogether. As much as the classical papyrophobe don’t want any papers around, the digital papyrophobe don’t want too many digital devices resting on his desk and wouln’t dare very often to open more than one browser window at a time to prevent information overload. In the same spirit as the worker who want to relieve the pressure that the work weight on him by cleaning all the papers from the desk, the digital papyrophobe will either immediately classified or delete any new incoming email in his mailbox just to give himself the impression that those businesses has been dealt with.
Papyromania, which is the exact opposite of papyrophobia, is a nasty organizational habit that “causes the employee to clutter his desk with piles of never-used papers and books.” Consciously or unconsciously, he thus tries to mask his incompetence by giving the impression that he has too much to do – more than any human being could accomplish.
Fileophilia, according to Peters, is “a mania for the precise arrangement and classification of papers, usually combined with a morbid fear of loss any document.” By keeping himelf so busy with rearranging and re-examining bygone business, the fileophiliac prevents other people – and prevents himself – from realizing that he is accomplishing little or nothing of current importance. His preoccupation with records fixes his visions on the past so that he backs reluctantly into the present.
In most recent times, with the recent revolution in the field of information technologies, the typic fileophiliacs are hell bent to digitalize every document ever made in the history of their business or institution, they accumulate gigabytes of archived emails that dates reach back decades ago, thouzand of meeting resume, memos, and so on. The typical virtual archivist will load every hard drive, CD-ROM, or server storage he has access to with and endless torrent of useless data until there is no space left for usefull informations and/or until the failure of the overloaded hardware. Most digital fileophiliac have a hard time making the difference between “noise” and real “information.” So, they don’t take any chances and they file and log everything. When their overloaded hard drives comes to breakdown and crash because of their negligence in the maintenance of the information support they are working with (so obsessed there are with filing documents), they generaly become emotionnally unstable, hysteric, sometimes belligerent and some can event break into tears if front of everybody or blow a gasket and sack their own office.
The cachinatory inertia is the symptom of a widespreach hiearchical disease that manifests itself by “the habit of telling jokes instead of getting on with business” and this is, according to Peters, “a sure mark of final placement.” Again, almost every organization have its own little “joker” that goes around from one office to another wasting his time and everybody else’s telling jokes and mocking institutional rules of politically correctness. What is truly astonishing is the fact that most of the time the little “king’s fool” scheme works at perfection and this kind of employee is highly appreciated by his collegues even if he doesn’t contribute much to the accomplishment of the task at hand because they somehow respect the courage he display when he dares to break the asceptized atmosphere of the bureacratic hierarchy. Another caracteristic of the “corporate fool” is the fact that sometime this kind of individual will be able to get away with mild form of disrespect toward the higher management that an ordinary employee would even dream of indulging himself into. Just like it was the case in the king’s court a couple hundred of years ago, the “corporate fool” can occasionally break the reigning climate of “politically correctness” to pull off one of his public amusement as long as the King (whether it is the team manager, the director or the CEO) is still laughing at his jokes. The main reason why this is a sign of “final placement” is that the fool’s lack of seriousness and his lack of respect towards the bureacratic structure itself render him difficult to manage and in many cases this garantees that he won’t go pass a certain level in his hierarchical ascention. Another reason may be that the employee already know that his ascention is over and doesn’t care for his job anymore (when he knows that his level of incompetency has been reached) or it is also possible that this attitude of cynism may have developped itself gradually during year of desillusion accumulated at the same rhythm as the years of loyal services. Knowing that the end of the road is near or because his seniority or syndicalistic protection guarantee him full employment in any possible scenario, it happen sometimes that some delinquent employees allow themselves to finish their carrer as the class’ clown.
Structurophilia is an unhealthy and obsessive concern with buildings – their planning, construction, maintenance and reconstruction – and in an increasing unconcern with the work that is going on, or is supposed to be going on, inside them. It is possible to observe structurophilia at all hierarchical level, but it is undoubtedly achives its finest development in politicians and university presidents. In its extreme pathological that Peters calls Gargantuan momentalis it reaches a stage where the victim has a compulsion to build great tombs or memorial statues. Ancient Egyptians and moder Southern California appear to have suffered greatly from this malady. Structurophilia has been referred to, by the uninformed, as the Edifice Complex. We must be precise in differentiating between this simple preoccupation with structures and the Edifice Complex which involves a number of elaborately interrelated, interconnected and complicated attitudes. The Edifice complex tends to afflict philantropists wishing to improve education, health services or religious instruction. They consult experts in these fields and discover so many at their respective levels of incompetence that formulation of a positive program is impossible. The only thing they agree on is having a new building. Church committes, school trustees and foundations boards find themselves in the same complex situation. They see so much incompetence in their profession that they decide in invest in buildings rather than people and programs.
Tabulatory gigantism Peters tells us, “is an obcession with having a bigger desk that his collegues.” The executive sees the size of his desk as proportional to the power he command in the business and institution and sees every rivalry in this area as an attempt to get over his head at least symbolically. Like Robert Green say “Never outshine the master.” Some self absorbed managers will also have the desk carved and ask a world reknown artist to load it with occult and heraldic symbolism in order to make him even more impressive and intimidating. A good example of this is the Resolute desk, which is a large, very impressive nineteenth-century partners’ desk that is often chosen by presidents of the United States for use in the White House Oval Office as the Oval Office desk. It was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and was built from the timbers of the British Arctic Exploration ship Resolute. A marvelous piece of ebenistry, the desk has been modified twice. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a hinged front panel for the key hole opening in order to hide his leg braces. The panel was commissioned in 1944 but President Roosevelt did not live to use it: it was not delivered until 1945, following the president’s death on April 12. President Harry S. Truman had the panel installed anyway to honor Roosevelt’s memory. The panel features the presidential seal—one of only four in the White House that have the eagle’s head turned towards the 13 arrows in the eagle’s left talon, as opposed to the now-official arrangement with the eagle turned towards the olive branch in the right talon with the 13 leaves. The second modification to the desk was made under Ronald Reagan. President Reagan used a chair he had brought from the capital in California; it was tall enough that his knees bumped into the desk when he moved. As a result, the desk was raised two inches to accommodate Reagan and his chair; this was achieved by adding a separate, uniform base to the desk.
Tabulophobia Privata, according to Peters, is the “complete exclusion desks from the office.” This is coherent with the Dolson principle which states that “the higher management, the easier the work.” It seems possible to reach a rank in the hierachy where all the managers have to do it to dispatch work, make meetings and go to business dinners. This is why this symptom is observed at the very highest hierarchical ranks. You have to be at least high enough to have the right to choose the content and disposition of your office and your status have to be sufficiently high so that people won’t ever has the guts to make allusions to the total absence of usefull work that is actually accomplished by those “minimalist” managers. Excentric modern managers are also well advised by feminine conselors who knows all the new trends and the more mundane nature of their high ranking job explains why they tend to adopt minimalistic decoration style that doesn’t include the essential tools that are requiered to accomplish significant work. Some of them are also deeply involved in New Age munbo jumbo and this makes them even more enclined to adopt the furnitureless esoteric minimalist style that we often see in futuristic movies and fancy decoration magazines. The underlying intent behind this minimalism, of course, is to stage a false humility context by removing all the symbol of corporate power in order to articially create also-clalled “more friendly” and “decontracted” workspace that give the illusion that are the dealings in this office are made between “equals.”
Nervous Tics and other Strange Habits
Eccentric physical habits and tics often develop soon after final placement has been achieved A noteworthy example is Heep’s Palmar Contrication, so acutely observed and vividly described by C. Dicken. It is also possible to classify under this topic such habits as nail biting, drumming with fingers or tapping with pencils on desks, cracking knuckles, twiddling pens, pencils and paper clips, the purposeless stretching and snapping of rubber bands, and heavy sighting with no apparent cause for grief. Untrained observers are inclined to think that he is absorbed in the awesome responsibility of high office. Hierarchiologists knows otherwise.
The Initial and Digital Codophilia Syndrome
What Peters calls the Initial and Digital Codophilia syndrome is strange speech habit that is revealing of the “final placement” which manifests itselfs as an obsession for speaking in letters and numbers rather than in words. With their overnumerous abreviations and constant name dropping they are trying to conceal the obvious fact that they don’t know much. Codophiliacs manage to make the trivial sounds impressive, which is generally what they want. The victims of this syndrome have also a tendency to, upon signing a letter or an email, to enumerate with abreviations all the titles, diplomas and certification they have accomplished in their career just below their signature. People in areas which involves a life long learning process like in computer science and who have to pass regular exams, accreditation, certifications, etc., are very found of this kind of abreviation dropping when it comes to their personal accomplishments. They sign their email like this: Joe SixPack, PHD, MCT, MCSD, ACCAD, and so on until the whole thing looks like a complex chemical formula.
The Complete Stoppage of the Thought Process
Some employees, on final placement, stop thinking, or at lest sharply cut down on their thinking. Th mask this, they develop lines of General Purpose Conversation or, in the case of public figures, General Purpose Speeches. The consist of remarks that sounds impressive, yet which are vague enough to apply to all situations, with perhaps a few words changed each time to suit trhe particular audience.
The Psychological Symptoms
Many executive conferences consisted of the high-ranking employee telling hard-luck stories about his present condition. Statements like “Nobody really appreciates me,” “nobody co-operate with me,” or “Nobody understands the incessant pressure from above and the incurable incompetence below make it utterly impossible for me to do an adequate job and keep a clean desk.” This self-pity is usually combined with a strong tendency to reminisce about “good old days” when the complaisant was working at a lower rank, at a level of competence. This complex of emotion – sentimental self-pity, denigration of the present and irrational praise of the past – Peters calls the Auld Lang Syne Complex. An interesting feature of this complex is that although the typical patient clainms to be a martyr to his present position, he never on any account suggests that another employee would be better able to fill his place.
What Peters calls Rigor Cartis is “an abnormal interest in the construction of organization and flow charts, and a stuborn insistance upon routing scrap of business in a strict accordance with the lines and arrows of the chart, no matter what the delays or losses may result.” The usual Rigor Cartis patient will often display his charts prominently on the office walls, and may, sometimes, be seen, his woork lying neglected on his desk, staring and standing in worshipful contemplation of his icon.
The Compulsive Alternation
Some employees, on achieving the final placement, try to mask their insecurity by keeping subordinates always off balance. An executive of this type is handed a written report; he pushes it aside and say, “I’ve no time to wade through all that garbage. Tell me about it in your own words – and briefly.” If the subordinate comes with a verbal suggestion, this man chokes him off mid-sentence with “I can’t even begin to think about it until you put it in writing.” A confident employee will be deflated with a snub; a timid one will be flustered by a display of familiarity. One may at first confuse Compulsive Alternation with Potter’s One-upmanship but they are quite different. Potter’s method is designed to advance the user to his level of incompetence. Compulsive Alternation is primarily a defensive technique employed by a boss who has reached his level. This man subordinates say, “You never know how to take him.”
The Teeter-Totter Syndrome
In the teeter-tooter syndrome one sees a complete inability to make the decisions appropriate to the sufferer’s rank. An employee of this type can balance endlessly and minutely the pros and cons of a question, but cannot come down one side or the other. He will rationalize his immobility with grave allusions to “the democratic process” or “taking the longer view.” He usually deals with the problems that come to him by keeping them in limbo until someone wlse make a secision or until it is too late for a solution. The teeter-totter victims are often papyrophobes as well, so they have to find some means of getting rid of the papers. The Downward, Upward and Outward Buckpasses are commonly used to effect this. In the Downward Buckpass the papers are sent to a subordinate with the order, “Don’t bother me with such trifles.” The subordinate is thus bullied into deciding an issue that is really above his level of responsibility. The Upward Buckpass calls for ingenuity: the teeter-tooter victim must examine the case until he finds some tiny point out of the ordinary which will justify sending it up to a higher level. The Outward Buckpass merely involves assembling a committee of the victim’s peers and following the decision of the majority. A variant of this is The John Q. Public Diversion: sending the papers to someone else who will conduct a survey to find what the average citizen thinks about the matter.