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ETpro's avatar

Failing up? What's with that?

Asked by ETpro (34412points) November 13th, 2012

Failing up is the term for utterly botching an assigned task, and yet somehow managing to get a substantial promotion as thanks for the miserable failure. Here’s a good explanation of the phenomenon, citing a recent example.

It seems like the polar opposite of the Peter Principle, which states that, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” What’s behind the idea some organizations seem to have that failure just means you haven’t been promoted high enough? Do they rationalize that bosses work less and less as their pay-grade rises, so top honchos are best selected from those who never do anything meaningful to help their organization succeed? Is our business climate today so driven by the “size matters” approach to marketing that really big organizations think that they are best served by fossilized leaders? Help me understand failing up. If I can catch on to how it’s played, I am destined for greatness.

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13 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Come on, dude. These are Republicans. Data doesn’t matter to them. It’s gut feeling. Someone has a feeling that this guy is going to do well, despite all the failures in the past.

And you can make an argument that failure teaches you a lot. I, for example, would have preferred that Hillary had run health care reform again, believing that her experience the first time would have taught her a lot from all the mistakes she made. Who better than her to be able to avoid those mistakes the next time?

Cornyn lost the Senate for the Republicans. But surely he learned from the experience. Surely he will be a better leader because of it. Right?

Or not.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Early in my career at a very large corporation I was in a “skunk works” type group in the advanced engineering department. We were working on the newest of the new and inventing as we went along Our team consisted of 3 guys: engine controls, electronics and mechanical. After a few weeks it was obvious the electronics guy did not have the skills to do what needed to be done. We had him do the boring write-ups while we took care of the electronics. The project went very well. He got the glory because he had the face time with the brass and he was the one who got promoted first. That worthless sack of…

El_Cadejo's avatar

This question makes me think of Office Space.

jerv's avatar

No wonder I never get promoted; I’m too competent!

CWOTUS's avatar

In one sense, @jerv, your complaint is very apt: If you can’t be replaced, then you can’t [easily] be promoted. Start training your replacement.

Sunny2's avatar

Teachers who are not particularly successful in the classroom are often ‘bumped up’ to an administrative job.

jerv's avatar

@CWOTUS Paradoxically, asking for a raise will give a lesson in how easily replaced one is…

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta Ha! They are more than welcome to believe that repeated failure leads to success as long as they just apply the idea internally. I get aggravated when they wreck the economy applying the same failed policies to the nation yet again.

@LuckyGuy I wonder how many of us have a similar story. Most who have been in the corporate world, I’d guess.

@uberbatman I didn’t see it. Is it funny enough to reach back for?

@jerv I think shutting down after previous competence usually backfires.

Poor Jerv. His only path up is probably exactly what @CWOTUS suggests.

@Sunny2 I wonder if that’s one of the things wrong with education.

ucme's avatar

You lot came frighteningly close to this scenario with Mittorious Romnicius….....I speak fluent latin.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@ETpro OH MAN its a classic. Definitely put that near the top of your “movies to watch” list. Its on Netflix instant view currently if you have it.

ETpro's avatar

@ucme Too close for comfort.

@uberbatman Thanks for the recommendation.

Sunny2's avatar

@ETpro One of many!

ETpro's avatar

@Sunny2 Since the US is down below some third world nations in educational outcomes now, I would have to agree, “One of many!”

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