Thursday, January 23, 2014


Obscurity of the Day: The Peter Principle

Just in case you're not familiar with the term, the Peter Principle is the idea that people will tend to be promoted until they reach a level at which they are incompetent. For example, a brilliant but introverted computer programmer, according to the Peter Principle, will progress from a junior programming position, to mid-level, to senior, and then, unfortunately, to management, where his skills are of little use, and he is in a supervisory position which is completely unsuited to his personality.

The Peter Principle originated in a 1969 book by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. It became a buzzword in business, and then popularized further through marketing of various products, including additional books about business management.

Sometime in 1984, United Feature Syndicate snagged Laurence Peter to author a Peter Principle panel cartoon series. Matt Wuerker, long before he became a famous political cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize winner, supplied the art in his signature style. The cartoons generally had incompetency as their subject, of course, which is always a rich vein of comedy. Though Peter presumably had no experience writing gag cartoons, he seems to have taken to it reasonably well. In fact, I gather Peter is even a character in the series -- I assume the fellow in Groucho glasses and moustache is supposed to resemble him.

The series failed to particularly dazzle newspaper editors, who ignored it in droves. Despite the high profile name and the out-of-the-ordinary artwork, it just didn't seem to get any traction. When Laurence Peter's health began to fail in 1985, it provided a good excuse to put the series out to pasture, ending on December 14. 

UPDATE 1/22/2022: Now have a likely start date from the Shreveport Journal, July 16 1984.


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