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The Dilbert Principle refers to a 1990s satirical observation stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management, in order to limit the amount of damage that they're capable of doing.
The term was coined by Scott Adams, an MBA graduate from Berkeley and creator of the Dilbert comic strip. Adams explained the principle in a 1996 Wall Street Journal article. Adams then expanded his study of the Dilbert Principle in a satirical 1996 book of the same name, which is required or recommended reading at some management and business programs.      The book has sold more than a million copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 43 weeks.
Although academics may reject the principle's veracity, noting that it is at odds with traditional human resources management techniques, it originated as a form of satire that addressed a much-discussed issue in the business world. The theory has since garnered some support from business and management. For example, Guy Kawasaki, formerly of Apple Computer, said: "There are two types of companies. Those that recognize that they are just like Dilbert and those that are also like Dilbert but don't know it yet."
The Dilbert Principle is a variation of the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle addresses the practice of hierarchical organizations (such as companies and corporations) that use promotions as a way to reward employees that demonstrate competence in their current position. It goes on to state that, due to this practice, a competent employee will eventually be promoted to, and remain at, a position at which he or she is incompetent.
- The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams, HarperBusiness 1996 ISBN 0-88730-858-9
- 2002 interview with Scott Adams, Funny Business, BizEd, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, November/December
- Wall Street Journal, May 30, 1996, p. A11
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