In this article, we explore the Gervais Principle superficially. The Gervais Principle is a dense topic. A topic that many people, once aware of, will change the way they look at their organizational structure.
It’s Friday night and Brian has been grinding away at a project that’s due Monday.
He’s stuck at the office while all his co-workers left for the day, probably having drinks, sex and doing copious amounts of cocaine.
The clock strikes midnight. He’s finally done. On top of all the extra work his boss piled on top of him due to a co-worker quitting, he managed to finish the project.
He’s elated because he put in a letter of intent for a promotion not too long before he was assigned this project.
This is his time to prove to his boss that he is a perfect fit for this new management role.
Monday morning comes. He’s finished the presentation. The boss is happy with his work and he has an announcement. Perfect.
Brian is excited. He knows what’s coming next.
His boss announces that Jeff is getting the same promotion he put in for despite the fact that Jeff is lazy, shows up for work late and gets special privileges from management. Bummer.
This is the story of many a hard worker in hundreds of organizations around the world.
Little did you know that this pathology of grooming underperforming employees for upper management is built into many of these organizations.
In this article, we will briefly introduce the Gervais Principle to describe this phenomenon.
The Gervais Principle
A few years ago while working for a big corporation, I stumbled across an interesting six part blog series about the gervais principle.
The blog series is called “The Gervais Principle, Or The Office According to ‘The Office’”
This six part series has its home on ribbonfarm.com.
The author, Venkatesh Rao, was obsessed with a show called “The Office.” After binge watching the series, in addition to the British version, he figured out what made this show so appealing.
He states that the show “… is a fully realized theory of management that falsifies 83.8% of the business section of the bookstore.”
Consequently, he comes up with The Gervais Principle.
Without getting into too much of the nitty gritty, I’ll read an excerpt from the blog that illustrates the premise of The Gervais Principle:
“Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.”
The author posits that in order for organizations to run the way they are designed to, there is an inherent pathology built into the structure with its layers consisting of 3 types of people.
The Meat Of The Gervais principle: Sociopaths, Losers & Clueless
Sociopaths are versatile in the sense that they can come from anywhere, as mentioned in the premise, they are the ones that birth the company.
“A Sociopath with an idea recruits just enough Losers to kick off the cycle. As it grows it requires a Clueless layer to turn it into a controlled reaction rather than a runaway explosion.”
Rao also gives an expanded profile of the sociopath:
“The Sociopaths enter and exit organizations at will, at any stage, and do whatever it takes to come out on top. The contribute creativity in early stages of a organization’s life, neurotic leadership in the middle stages, and cold-bloodedness in the later stages, where they drive decisions like mergers, acquisitions and layoffs that others are too scared or too compassionate to drive. They are also the ones capable of equally impersonally exploiting a young idea for growth in the beginning, killing one good idea to concentrate resources on another at maturity, and milking an end-of-life idea through harvest-and-exit market strategies.”
In regards to your ever burning question as to why that lazy bastard of a co-worker was promoted.
Rao has this to say:
“The future Sociopath must be an under-performer at the bottom.”
In my time at the corporation I worked for, I’ve seen this happen time and time again. A person would come in out of nowhere, blatantly underperform then the following month I’d see them wearing a polo and khakis.
The loser is different. These are the people who chase “happiness.” They are not the type A, overly ambitious types. They are only similar to the sociopaths in the respect that they are not loyal to the company. They react with the economic tides.
Here’s the profile of the loser that Rao gives us:
“MacLeod’s Loser layer had me puzzled for a long time, because I was interpreting it in cultural terms: the kind of person you call a “loser.” While some may be losers in that sense too, they are primarily losers in the economic sense: those who have, for various reasons, made (or been forced to make) a bad economic bargain. They’ve given up some potential for long-term economic liberty (as capitalists) for short-term economic stability. Traded freedom for a paycheck in short. They actually produce, but are not compensated in proportion to the value they create (since their compensation is set by Sociopaths operating under conditions of serious moral hazard).
They mortgage their lives away, and hope to die before their money runs out. The good news is that Losers have two ways out, which we’ll get to later: turning Sociopath or turning into bare-minimum performers. The Losers destined for cluelessness do not have a choice.”
From this we can see that the loser may or may not be aware of their choices but they have two nonetheless.
Note that losers who are actually aware of their choices and are inclined to be capitalist, will most likely take the sociopath route.
Which is why we can see how someone can walk into a company off the street and start climbing the ladder seemingly effortlessly, literally.
We also see how the clueless are born out of the loser stratum which are profiled like as so:
“The Clueless are the ones who lack the competence to circulate freely through the economy (unlike Sociopaths and Losers), and build up a perverse sense of loyalty to the firm, even when events make it abundantly clear that the firm is not loyal to them. To sustain themselves, they must be capable of fashioning elaborate delusions based on idealized notions of the firm — the perfectly pathological entities we mentioned. Unless squeezed out by forces they cannot resist, they hang on as long as possible, long after both Sociopaths and Losers have left (in Douglas Adams’ vicious history of our planet, humanity was founded by a spaceship full of the Clueless, sent here by scheming Sociopaths). When cast adrift in the open ocean, they are the ones most likely to be utterly destroyed.”
As a former union rep, I spent a lot of time, ignorantly, trying to explain the unexplainable to the clueless stratum thinking they would wake up and make moves. This was obviously before studying the gervais principle.
The clueless are characterized by the glossy eyed looks you receive when speaking about anything outside of the organization BUT according to the gervais principlethat statement would be categorized as “Losertalk,” which is a language the loser stratum speak.
You can read up on the specific “languages” each category speaks as well as which language they use to speak to people belonging to different strata.
As mentioned before, I was ignorant. That is until I read about the gervais principle and saw that there is no educating the clueless. You can lead a horse to water.
The clueless remind me of the zombified people of the world who hold onto illusions about what society really is, which is a topic for another time.
But this lends us to the notion or assumption that many hierarchies need thick stratum of clueless to keep such organizations running.
By now you’re probably wondering which category you belong in according to the gervais principle. That’s difficult to pin down but I will tell you this, after watching this video and reading the blog detailing the complete dynamics of the Gervais Principle, you will never see the workplace the same again.
The Gervais Principle, Or The Office According to “The Office”. (2013, September 18). Retrieved from https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-or-the-office-according-to-the-office/