A few months back, I was given the privilege of writing the forward to the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull (both deceased). It remains a masterpiece. Very much like Up the Organization, it somehow manages to be both a kind of charming historical piece and completely relevant to the times. And I think it remains the funniest useful management book ever written. I will be writing more about it now and then, as it is coming-out in April.
I was reading through it again this morning, and even though it is has been just a couple months, it seems even more relevant now, especially the main thesis the hierarchies tend to naturally and powerfully propel people up the ladder until they achieve "final placement" at their level of incompetence. The book is especially masterful at revealing all the tricks that incompetent people to avoid revealing their incompetence; this morning, I realized that Peter and Hull had beat us to the punch by 30 years in identifying what we called "the smart talk trap" in The Knowing-Doing Gap, the notion that managers often use talk, planning, endless study, and so on as a substitute for taking action. They provide a list of Substitution techniques; they define substitution as "Instead of carrying out the proper duties of his position he substitutes for them some other duties, which he carries out to perfection."
My favorite technique is what they call "Peter's Prognosis," which happens because the "The True Substituter can never get enough to evidence" to act." They explain the logic behind this technique is it "Spend sufficient time in confirming the need, and the need will disappear." They point out, for example, that if a famine relief study goes on long enough, the need for the relief will eventually disappear!"
Alas, it is true that too many organizations reward such behavior rather than taking action. As I have written here before, the best bosses and organization strike the right balance with the attitude of wisdom, acting on the best knowledge they have right now, doubting what they know, and updating their beliefs and actions as better information comes along.
P.S. I would also point out that Peter's Prognosis is especially pertinent to these tough times as so many organizations are afraid to act, so they keep studying and studying what to do, and since they always need more information and never come up with the perfect answer, they do take no action, and their products are never completed or sold. So rather than ever actually putting the product out there, they act like Homer in this cartoon, who says "Trying is the first step toward failing." This might be called Peter's Paralysis.