The Dilbert Principle
Based on a cartoon about office workers by Scott Adams, this rule states that companies tend to systematically promote their least competent employees to management (generally middle management) to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.
The Peter Principle
Often misquoted as the Dilbert Principle, it is subtly different. Laurence Peter wrote an entire book about how people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their level of incompetence. In other words, an employee is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another. They can no longer be promoted, so they are stuck in a position doing a bad job.
When management salaries are disconnected from productivity, other measures such as the number of staff under the manager lead to raises. The manager then tries to employ more people for his or her own benefit.
Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Staff want to appear busy to protect their own position. This rewards Empire Builders with an excuse to hire more employees. Bureaucracy is created to make more work, reducing productivity while other metrics may look good. The corollary to this is the sage advice “if you want something done, give it to a busy person.” While at first glance it appears counter-intuitive, busy people don’t have time to waste so will get tasks done efficiently.
The Shirky Principle
Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.
The Bastard theory of promotion
Why are people at the top of large organisations often so nasty? It is easier to promote someone than to fire them, so if you don’t like someone in your team, you can get rid of them by promoting them to someone else’s team. The bastards rise up the ranks quickly. On the other hand, if you have a great person under you making you look good, you want to keep them. Nice guys finish last.
The genius of Douglas Adams solved the problem of creating invisibility in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. True invisibility requires bending photons around an object, something the laws of physics tend to resist. Instead, an SEP generator relies on a simple psychological trick. It stands for Somebody Else’s Problem. We can’t see it because we don’t want to see it. The brain just edits it out, like a blind spot. Too many issues get lost and forgotten about in a bureaucracy because they are SEPs.
The Bystander Effect
Similar to an SEP, bystander apathy as it is sometimes called, is a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. It was noticed with injured people on a busy street, but also applies to large organisations. Staff ignore people with problems because they think someone else will deal with it.
Popular on the internet, most users of this term would be surprised to find it dates from 1945 when W. Anderson wrote "The simple truth is that you can get away with anything, in government. That covers almost all the evils of the time. Once in, nobody, apparently, can turn you out. The People, as ever (I spell it 'Sheeple'), will stand anything.”