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The Peter Principle wears White Sox

As percussive sublimation rules

So do owners.

Way back in 1969 — a year in which, perhaps not coincidentally, the White Sox lost 94 games — the New York Times list of bestselling nonfiction books was topped for four months by a huge surprise. That surprise was The Peter Principle by Southern Cal professor Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull, based on Peter’s work.

Dr. Laurence Peter studies White Sox personnel chart.

The book was intended to be satirical, but like much great satire, it was very, very close to the truth — to the point it has been used in many an MBA course since, perhaps even one taken by Rick Hahn. It is also very close to the White Sox, though a little indirectly.

The essence of the Peter Principle is simple — the reason things are always all screwed up is because in any hierarchical organization, people are constantly promoted to their level of incompetence and almost always remain there. For example, the great salesman is made sales manager but can’t handle personal matters or budgets at all, so is never promoted again. They use educational examples a lot — the terrific classroom teachers promoted to assistant principal who can’t deal with scheduling issues, or the fine assistant principal who is promoted to principal but can’t schmooze with parents or board members.

The book goes into many corollaries and adjunct concepts, one of which particularly applies to the White Sox.

Let us move on to percussive sublimation

The promotion Thursday of Chris Getz from director of player development, where it would have been almost impossible to do a worse job, to senior vice-president and general manager (in a very un-White Sox show of efficiency his Wikipedia page was updated before the ink was dry on the press release) obviously does not fit the Peter Principle itself. Were that the case, Getz would have had to remain in his previous job, because he had reached his level of incompetence.

What does fit is an apparent exception to the principle which Peter and Hull debunk — “percussive sublimation.” That’s their name for what might more generally be called getting kicked upstairs. They say it’s not really an exception, because the worker in question is just being moved up from one position of incompetence to another. They also say such an action improves staff morale, because it makes other employees believe that they, too, can be promoted, no matter how incompetent they are.

That being the case, morale should be soaring at 35th and Shields right now.

Push vs. pull

Laurence and Hull point out there are two ways to gain promotion. The first is “push,” rising through your own efforts and skills, such as working hard and taking courses to improve professional knowledge. That, they say, almost never works.

The second method is “pull,” being dragged up by the efforts of your mentors or patrons. There is only one patron or mentor in the Getz case, and there’s no question Jerry Reinsdorf’s pull is the reason for the promotion.

Of course, from a fan or sports perspective Reinsdorf himself had long since reached his level of incompetence. Laurence and Hull say it’s quite possible for someone who has reached his level of incompetence to be perfectly happy and healthy once they get there, as long as they don’t recognize the reality of their situation ... witness Ken Williams and Rick Hahn, as well as Getz.

But who is evaluating incompetence?

That’s the rub here, as the White Sox are concerned. In the types of cases Laurence and Hull mostly dealt with, the goals were what you might expect, such as improving profits or learning outcomes.

With the Sox, not so much.

Sure, baseball-wise the organization is a total failure top to bottom, except for maybe the grounds crew and Luis Robert Jr.. For most sports teams, that would be the appropriate angle. Not so the Sox.

The only perspective that counts for the White Sox is Reinsdorf’s — fans and everybody else who cares about good baseball, be damned. And that perspective is not limited to merely making money, which is almost impossible not to do the way MLB finances and the constant soaring of team values are constructed. Instead, it’s heavily into manipulating taxes for minimum outflow and maximum inflow and, perhaps even equal to the tax stratagems, letting his control freakdom run wild.

You can bet Getz isn’t going to be questioning that control. It’s too hard to do with your lips firmly affixed to a keister.

A parting thought from Dr. Peter himself, perfect for the White Sox

“If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three.”

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