Laurence J. Peter biography and quotes

Laurence J. Peter - Toolshero

Laurence J. Peter (September 16, 1919 – January 12, 1990) was an American educator and author. He became known thanks to his book ‘The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong’, from 1969. In this book Laurence J. Peter explains the Peter Principle: the suggestion that employees are promoted due to successes from their previous positions, which eventually puts them in a role for which they are not suited.

Laurence J. Peter was also a professor at the University of Southern California, and authored several other books, including The Peter Prescription, The Peter Plan, and The Peter Pyramid. He also worked as a consultant and public speaker, particularly in the field of management education. He believed that the traditional education system placed too much emphasis on information retention and testing, rather than developing creativity and critical thinking skills.

The biography of Laurence J. Peter

Laurence J. Peter was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His father was William Peter and his mother Margaret Peter. Both his parents were Scottish immigrants who had settled in Canada. When Peter was three years old, the family moved to California. Here he grew up in Beverly Hills.

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As a child, Peter was particularly interested in sports. He mainly played football, basketball and baseball during his time in high school. He was also a member of the debate team and wrote for the school newspaper. He graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1936 and then enrolled at the University of Southern California.

During his time at USC, Peter was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity and played on the football team. He received his bachelor’s degree in education in 1941 and then went on to teach at a California high school.

After the United States became involved in World War II, Peter joined the United States Navy. He served here as a lieutenant. He was assigned to the USS Marblehead, a cruiser that was involved in several major battles in the Pacific.

Peter retired from the Army in 1946 and returned to California, where he continued his teaching career. He went on to receive his master’s and doctorate degrees in education from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Peter’s experiences as a student and teacher greatly influenced his later work in organizational theory and management.

He became interested in understanding why some organizations were more effective than others and how organizational performance could be improved. This interest led him to write the book ‘The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong’. He did this together with Raymond Hull. The book became a groundbreaking book in the field of management theory.

Later life of Laurence J. Peter

After this successful publication of “The Peter Principle” in 1969, he continued to write books, particularly on organizational theory and management. Some books include “The Peter Prescription: How to Make Things Go Right,” “The Peter Plan: A Proposal for Survival,” and “The Peter Pyramid: Further Applications of the Principle.”

He also became a sought-after speaker and consultant on management and organizational theory, traveling to various countries to lecture and provide advice to companies and organizations.

Peter continued to teach throughout his life and was a professor of education at the University of Southern California until his retirement. After his retirement, he remained closely involved in education in general and taught at several other universities and institutes.

Peter died of a heart attack on January 12, 1990 in Palos Verdes Estates, California. He turned 70 years old. His work has had a lasting impact on the study of organizational theory and management and remains relevant to managers and organizations around the world.

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Famous quotes

  1. “A man convinced against his will is not convinced.”
  2. “A pessimist is a man who looks both ways when he crosses the street.”
  3. “A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.”
  4. “Against logic, there is no armor like ignorance.”
  5. “An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today.”
  6. “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.”
  7. “An intelligence test sometimes shows a man how smart he would have been not to have taken it.”
  8. Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”
  9. “Committees have become so important nowadays that subcommittees have to be appointed to do the work.”
  10. “Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.”
  11. Democracy is a process by which people are free to choose the man who will get the blame.”
  12. “Don’t believe in miracles – depend on them.”
  13. “Don’t let your mind wander – it’s too small to be out by itself.”
  14. “Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.”
  15. “Everyone rises to their level of incompetence – even in love.”
  16. “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”
  17. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
  18. “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.”
  19. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
  20. “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”
  21. “Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.”
  22. “Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it.”
  23. “Some people manage by the book, even though they don’t know who wrote the book or even what book.”
  24. “Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them.”
  25. “Speak up and the world will be grateful; be silent and the world will ignore you.”
  26. “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
  27. “Television has changed the American child from an irresistible force to an immovable object.”
  28. “The best defense against logic is ignorance.”
  29. “The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.”
  30. “The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.”
  31. “The function of the expert is not to be more right than other people, but to be wrong for more sophisticated reasons.”
  32. “The great question is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure.”
  33. “The man who is always waving the flag usually waives what it stands for.”
  34. “The man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance.”
  35. “The most valuable function performed by the federal government is entertainment.”
  36. “The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”
  37. “The problem with troubleshooting is that trouble shoots back.”
  38. “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.”
  39. “The seaman tells stories of winds, the ploughman of bulls; the soldier details his wounds, the shepherd his sheep.”
  40. “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
  41. “There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.”
  42. “There’s nothing wrong with being incompetent – it’s just that it’s hard to get people to take you seriously.”
  43. “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
  44. “You can’t study the darkness by flooding it with light.”

Books and publications by Laurence J. Peter et al.

  • 1996. The Peter Principle: In Action Again. HarperCollins Publishers.
  • 1994. The Peter Plan II: The Next Step in the Peter Principle. HarperCollins Publishers.
  • 1992. Peter’s People: A Study in Leadership. HarperCollins Publishers.
  • 1991. The Peter Principle: A Classic in Management Theory. HarperCollins Publishers.
  • 1990. The Peter Pyramid: Tracking the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1987. The Peter Prescription for a Healthy Back. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1985. The Peter Fables: An Introduction to Peter Philosophy. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1983. Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Times. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1979. The peter pyramid: Further applications of the principle. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1976. Why some societies are better than others. New York: William Morrow.
  • 1974. The Peter principle revisited: A retrospective of the Peter principle. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1973. The Peter Pyramid: Or, Will We Ever Get the Point? William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1972. The Peter Plan: A proposal for survival. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1970. The Peter Prescription: How to make things go right. William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • 1969. The Peter Principle: Why things always go wrong. Harper & Row Publishers.

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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