The Gervais Principle

Office culture is best understood through the lens of popular culture. That’s why Office Space and Dilbert are so popular.

The Office is another one of those seminal “texts”* on office life.

A blogger named Venkatesh Rao has combed through the Office and diluted from it a new “principle” to supersede the Dilbert Principle when it comes to our understanding of office life.

He breaks office employees down into three categories – the sociopath, the clueless, and the loser.

Below is an extended quote from his first post. He followed it up with a second. Check them out.

The Gervais Principle is this:

Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.

The Gervais principle differs from the Peter Principle, which it superficially resembles. The Peter Principle states that all people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. It is based on the assumption that future promotions are based on past performance. The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid, and because there isn’t that much room in an upward-narrowing pyramid. They know what it takes for a promotion candidate to perform at the “to” level. So if they are promoting people beyond their competence anyway, under conditions of opportunity scarcity, there must be a good reason.

Scott Adams, seeing a different flaw in the Peter Principle, proposed the Dilbert Principle: that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to middle management to limit the damage they can do. This again is untrue. The Gervais principle predicts the exact opposite: that the most competent ones will be promoted to middle management. Michael Scott was a star salesman before he become a clueless middle manager. The least competent employees (but not all of them — only certain enlightened incompetents) will be promoted not to middle management, but fast-tracked through to senior management. To the sociopath level.

And in case you are wondering, the unenlightened under-performers get fired.

*Because thanks to my arts degree (or QUT equivalent) I know that everything is a “text”…

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

3 thoughts on “The Gervais Principle”

  1. Someone at the Guildhall set an episode of the office to music as an opera, and it got done for Comic Relief – there's a very funny clip from the BBC show, with a bunch of my friends playing the characters:


    (It's a good idea, but I'm not convinced the musical language totally matches the text.. not really enough pace and the right timbre, but the writer is a student so let's cut some slack!)

  2. just remembered there's a video of the original performance at the Guildhall, of the first part at least:[youtube 5aiPjm7UlFU

    youtube]
    The music of the first section is actually really quite good – the problem lies I think with text that's not really lyrics. Same problem that Previn had when he wasn't allowed alter the text of Streetcar named Desire to make lyrics.

    Sorry for the tangent.

Comments are closed.