Little Known Laws of Organizations

Little Known Laws of Organizations

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy

Jerry Pournelle is an American science fiction writer, essayist and journalist.  He is best-known for “Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy”:

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to carry out have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

A better way to explain this is, those who care about the goals of an organization will do everything they can to further those goals. They will do this all well sacrificing their place in the organization. I’ve seen this in Boys Scouts, many times.  Those who care about the goals of Scouting stay as Pack and Troop leaders always making sure they do what’s best for the boys. Many times they bend the rules knowing it’s what’s best to teach the boys the Ideals of Scouting.

Those who are dedicated to Scouting itself end up working for the council level and above positions.  This is where they make rules for “the safety” of the boys but seem to forget that many times camping and learning new skills aren’t always 100% safe.  They make rules for lawyers and to prevent law suits.  This kind of thinking like the law states always makes this organization loyal person look great furthering their career. Even if it doesn’t better the boys which is what Scouting is really about.

Another place you see this, is in the school system.  There are amazing teachers that care only about the children.  Then there are those who get promoted into administration.  These administrators follow the second part of the law.  They are dedicated to the school system and forget about the true goal of teaching the children.

Law of Incompetence

I’ve also noticed that many times these school administrators follow another law.  This law states “a person will always get promoted to their highest level of incompetence.”  This is a simple concept.  Most people do a great job so they get promoted, right up until they are in over their head.  I think we’ve all had managers like this.  Those who were amazing workers, then they get a promotion and seem to forget where they came from and how to do the job.  Most of the time these people are just good enough to keep from getting fired.  The sad thing is if they had turned down the promotion they would have been happier and done a better job at supporting the company or organization.


What’s all this mean?  It means you have to decide what kind of person you want to be.  Do you want to be the person who is always moving up in an organization?  Even if it means forgetting why you where there to begin with.  Do you want to take that promotion knowing you may not be able to handle the job?  A person always needs to think about what is most important.  It also helps to remember when you see this type or people or become one, what and who got you there is the first place.



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