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Archibald Putt: The Unknown Technocrat Returns

2 min read


If you want to jump-start your technology career, put aside your Peter Drucker, your Tom Peters, and your Marcus Buckingham management tomes. Archibald Putt is back.

Who is Putt? Well, for those of you under 40, the pseudonymous Archibald Putt, Ph.D., penned a series of articles for Research/Development magazine in the 1970s that eventually became the 1981 cult classic Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat , an unorthodox and archly funny how-to book for achieving tech career success.

In the book, Putt put forth a series of laws and axioms for surviving and succeeding in the unique corporate cultures of big technology companies, where being the builder of the best technology and becoming the top dog on the block almost never mix. His first law, "Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand," along with its corollary, "Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion," have been immortalized on Web sites around the world.

The first law is obvious, but what's a competence inversion? It means that the best and the brightest in a technology company tend to settle on the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder--where things like inventing and developing new products get done--while those who manage what they cannot hope to make or understand float to the top (see Putt's first law, above, and a fine example of Putt's law in action in the editorial, "Is Bad Design a Nuisance?").

Other Putt laws we love include the law of failure: "Innovative organizations abhor little failures but reward big ones." And the first law of invention: "An innovated success is as good as a successful innovation."

Now Putt has revised and updated his short, smart book, to be released in a new edition by Wiley-IEEE Press (https://www.wiley.com/ieee) at the end of this month. There have been murmurings that Putt's identity, the subject of much rumormongering, will be revealed after the book comes out, but we think that's unlikely. How much more interesting it is to have an anonymous chronicler wandering the halls of the tech industry, codifying its unstated, sometimes bizarre, and yet remarkably consistent rules of behavior.

This is management writing the way it ought to be. Think Dilbert , but with a very big brain. Read it and weep. Or laugh, depending on your current job situation.

The editorial content of IEEE Spectrum does not represent official positions of the IEEE or its organizational units. Please address comments to Forum at n.hantman@ieee.org .

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