The Peter Principle’s Demise

There was a man I met a while back that ran one of the large international divisions of FedEx let’s call him Paul because I don’t remember his name. Paul was both charming and well spoken clearly well educated and humble, in essence a model of a businessman. His story was fascinating to me at the time and even more so now.

Paul started at a young age washing trucks for FedEx. He put in the extra hours and washed trucks with such high quality standards that people noticed (this has got to be hard, he wasn’t washing Mercs here… words like metallic or matte don’t come to mind when I ponder on the beauty of FedEx vehicles). But none the less he was promoted to some kind of manager; I assume one that overlooks the washing of trucks. The story continued as he worked his way into and out of a cubicle and finally into the upper echelon of FedEx, where stock options, club memberships, and special parking spots let you know he was the shit.

Today this American dream is becoming passé. Why? The Peter Principle. There was a realization that just because someone is excellent at washing trucks doesn’t mean that they’ll be any good at managing others washing trucks. The old way of promoting people that was based on performance at their previous position becoming defunct. Reason being that using this method results in people getting promoted until they reach a level where they are incompetent. So Paul was an outlier, a man good at every rung in the FedEx latter, but what an ideal company leader.

Today people need to know what they are good at. Sounds simple but not so much, hence the success of books like Strength Finder that tell you your skills. Know what you are bad is useful too it is just not nearly as important as knowing your strengths. As an employer I’m not going to hire you for what you suck at, tell me what your good at and I’m going to hire you to do that.

People are currently started to get hired to whatever level they have the skills to fill regardless of experience with the company or just plain experience in general. This is the future, a much more effective way to run a business.

What does this mean? Will this cause greater social divides because of the price of education?

I don’t know but it means that you need to learn your strengths, improve your strengths, and apply your strengths. Self knowledge is being a treasured commodity and the sooner you know who you are the faster you can get to where you want to be.  


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