The Dilbert Principle

pointy haired boss

The Dilbert Principle refers to a 1990s satirical observation by ‘Dilbert cartoonist’ Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. In the ‘Dilbert’ strip of February 5, 1995 Dogbert says that ‘leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow.’ Adams expanded on the idea in a satirical 1996 book of the same name, which is required reading at some management and business programs.

The Dilbert principle is comparable to the Peter Principle (in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence). It assumes that people are promoted because they are competent, and that the tasks higher up in the hierarchy require skills or talents they do not possess. It concludes that due to this, a competent employee will eventually be promoted to, and remain at, a position at which he or she is incompetent. The Dilbert principle, by contrast, assumes that the upper echelons of an organization have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder.

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