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Week 51: Tunnel Contractor, Alas Smith and Jones

One of my favourite shows on TV in the 80s was Alas Smith and Jones. Thankfully I also had the pleasure of seeing them in concert when they toured Australia. This sketch goes all the way back to when the Channel Tunnel was under construction and is a classic dig at two particular weaknesses in English culture: 1) poor upper management and 2) terrible workmanship. Sadly if you spend any time living in the UK you will experience both. While there are great trades people in the UK they are sadly not in the majority. Rather a sizeable number are absolute cowboys who do terrible work if they ever complete it in the first place.

Likewise the standard of British management in my experience can also be pretty poor. I have now worked in universities and for both small and large companies and for some mysterious reason the more dysfunctional and incompetent a person is the more likely it seems that they will end up rising to a very senior position. I guess this phenomenon is so common that academics have even tried to give it a name. The Peter Principle was first proposed in 1969 in a semi-satirical book by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull and was actually based on Peter’s research into the operations of hierarchical organizations. Yet I think the modified version of this principle, first proposed by the author of the Dilbert cartoons (Scott Adams) is even closer to the truth. The Peter principle states that individuals in an organisation are promoted to the point where they reach a level of incompetence that prevents them from being promoted further while the Dilbert principle goes one step further stating that individuals are promoted because of their incompetence.

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