Hierarchical incompetence

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Hierarchical incompetence is the often observed inability of organisations to achieve the aims set for them. This can be due to the oversimplification of issues and the loss of tacit knowledge about issues as they ascend a hierarchical organization. There is often an inbuilt tendency for people up the hierarchy to discount information coming from those lower down, particularly if it questions conventional wisdom of the hierarchy. There is a tendency for lateral communication across the various departments, fiefdoms, etc. to be stifled either actively by management, or by self-imposed isolation.[1] Conversely, the hierarchies only easily deliver simple messages which cascade down to the lower levels.[2] These messages tend to be inappropriate or counter-productive to the goals of the hierarchy and open to inadvertent mis-interpretation as they arrive at the organizational “sharp end,” as reality is inevitably much more complex than envisioned by those at the peak of the hierarchy. Often unofficial actions based on local tacit knowledge and lateral communications compensate for these inevitable communications and conceptual failures no matter how well-intentioned the original policies.


Hitler’s’ Third Reich was famous for bitter inter-departmental rivalries, personal vendettas and lack of co-operation added by fundamental incompetencies actively fostered by Hitler's staff limited strategic capabilities. And these failures in communication and coordination had cost the war, as well as the unexpected extension of duration beyond the propagated Blitzkrieg paradigm. For example German fighter airplanes should have been fitted with long range fuel tanks to enable them to protect the Luftwaffe bombers for several hours over England, rather than the 20 or so minutes-worth of fuel they in fact had. Field-marshal and later Air Inspector General Erhard Milch had recommended months before the battle of Britain that cheap drop tanks should be developed in preparation. But hierarchical incompetence meant the long range fuel tank program never went ahead, with consequences for world history that could have been enormous had the Luftwaffe won the Battle of Britain.[3] Interestingly none of this came out in the "post Match analysis" by the German High Command.

On the other hand, the Leigh Light, a special searchlight which was significant in defeating the World War II U-boat menace came about as the result of a Personnel Officer in the RAF designing and fitting the first light entirely unofficially.

Another case is the introduction of continuous aim firing into the US Navy which was bitterly contested by the hierarchy in charge of gunnery.[4]


Lateral communication should be encouraged throughout and across organizations in the interests of efficiency. E-mail and use of the resources of the Internet are one means of doing this. However, in order to prevent information overload Information Routing Groups (systems to automatically encourage, mediate, organize, monitor and control these lateral messages to prevent participants being overloaded, and help and assist them in their prime professional tasks) can assist by guiding important information in particular Tacit knowledge to them. Thus, lateral media and Information Routing Groups (IRGs) are an essential aid to the essential hierarchic function of any large organization and society, defeating the Relevance Paradox and helping to minimize unforeseen and undesirable outcomes.[citation needed]


  1. ^ David, Andrews (1984). The IRG Solution - Hierarchical Incompetence and how to overcome it. London: Souvenir Press. pp. 200–220. ISBN 0-285-62662-0. 
  2. ^ , London: Souvenir Press, 1984, pp. 200–220, ISBN 0-285-62662-0 The IRG Solution - Hierarchical Incompetence and how to overcome it http://www.claverton-energy.com/energy-experts-library/downloads/worldenergypolicy The IRG Solution - Hierarchical Incompetence and how to overcome it  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "The Battle of Britain - A German Perspective". Ibiblio.org. 1996-01-24. p. 24. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  4. ^ Gunfire at Sea: A Case Study of Innovation From: Elting E. Morison/MEN, MACHINES, AND MODERN TIMES, (Cambridge, MA: THE MIT PRESS), 1966, pp. 17-44.

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