If the Peter Principal is true, then why are there so many good people at the lower rungs in corporations? This question inspired Gus Adamson, professor at the James Jones Business School, to study corporate structures and promotions over the last decade.
"It appeared that promotions and restructuring weren't happening the same way as in years past, so I investigated a bit more," explained Adamson. "I was surprised by my findings. I expected to find the good ol' boys network and nepotism as the drivers. Instead, I found a relationship to the Brazil Nut Effect. Fortunately, this means that women and minorities have a chance."
The Brazil Nut Effect is the phenomenon where the largest objects (or particles) of similar density end up on the top of the mix, if the mix is given any movement or agitation. This is known as the granular convection but is so well demonstrated by Brazil nuts in a container of mixed nuts that it is often called the Brazil Nut Effect. Scientist have also discovered that reduced gravity lessens the Brazil Nut Effect.
In the business world, companies and divisions within companies re-organize on a regular basis. This is the agitation to the business, like moving a can is the agitation to the nuts. Wall Street's push for short term profit is the gravity holding companies down. Even after accounting for other factors, with gravity and agitation, Professor Adamson found that the largest egos rose to the top. This is the Brazil Nut Principal.
In granular convection, the Brazil nut doesn't rise as much as it moves out of the way for other nuts to slip into open lateral positions where the company is in need of strong employee contributions. As hard workers fill these roles, the Brazil nut slips ever so carefully above them to an open slot which is not essential to fill. Thereby, the Brazil nut, like the egotistical employee, rises on the backs of hard workers without a care for them. The egotists stayed higher up despite their poor performance in previous jobs by claiming leadership credit for the hard working employees that were resolving critical issues. Since the next level up is also egotistical, they never noticed that the hard working employees are self-driven and do not require leadership.
The principal also explains why many small businesses do not have the same issues as larger corporations.
(writer's note: the Brazil Nut Effect is real and accurately reported here.)