November 12, 2003 | Peter

Preserving Mediocrity

It is one of those inevitable laws of nature that in this age of white hot competition for work, it’s the mediocre who have established themselves as the deciders of who gets what. Mostly this is because the people in middle and upper management got their jobs when it was easy, and they slotted themselves in at the centre of things to protect themselves as, later, the cuts were made.
Take my profession, lecturing in universities. There are very few jobs around now because people are hanging on like grim death to what they have. The average age of university academic staff is now over 50. Many of the jobs advertised are actually already taken by people who will keep them, no matter how incompetent they are, on the ‘better the devil you know’ principle adopted by the selection panel.
In the old days one of the senior staff – say the dean or professor – would select new staff from the relatively few applicants. They could choose someone who went to their old university, or the son of their old mate, or whatever. Then they introduced this peer selection process on the grounds that existing staff should have some say in the selection of people who were afterall going to work with them.
Sounds reasonable, eh? Trouble is, there is this well known phenomenon – existing staff will not select someone they think is more competent than they are. Because it would rock the boat.
Even good academics get burnt out, and there are few enough of them to start with. So there is in place a system that directly mitigates against competency and promotes mediocrity.
I have had bitter personal experience of this. I can tell you it is nasty feeling to look across at a bunch of acadmics interviewing you for a position, all the paperwork you have to provide now being shuffled in their dry fingers. You know you could outperform each one of them, given the chance, and you know they will never give you that chance.
The same situation applies in other professions, and it is increasingly taking on a generational character. Like the real estate boom and superannuation, the baby-boomers are eating it all, leaving the mess for the kids to clean up. I see trouble ahead.

Posted by Peter at 2:18 pm | Comments Off on Preserving Mediocrity |
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