167. The Pita Principle
Pita bread is a great idea.
Originally (like 4,000 years ago), pita was invented to act as both part of the meal and a utensil to eat the meal. You could eat your dinner and then eat your utensil. Brilliant.
The pita discovery was so ahead of it’s time it would’ve definitely made the history books had it not been overshadowed by the spoke-wheeled chariot, the diamond drill bit and an early precursor of the pooper-scooper.
Pita bread was so good at its job for a few thousand years, that it eventually got promoted. Around the 20th century it evolved into being considered the perfect bread for sandwiches.
After all, with pita, there is no need for two slices of bread plus a holder to keep it all intact. The pita is both the bread AND the holder.
You can eat your sandwich AND the sandwich bag all at once.
Little did we realize, but the elevation of the pita from a utilitarian utensil to a sandwich centerpiece was the instigator of the concept that has come to be known as the Pita Principle. This concept was established 15 seconds ago when I wrote it in the previous sentence1.
To understand the Pita Principle you need to understand the pita problems.
The Primary Pita Problem
Just as they excelled in mathematics and astronomy, our ancestors from 2,000 BC also understood that the round shape of a pita is the optimal shape for picking up food. It took 4,000 years and a modern, capitalist society to ignore this theory and position pita as the ultimate sandwich maker.
After all, no corners in the pita mean equal parts bread and fixins in every single bite, right?
If you don’t put enough sandwich fixins in the pocket, you end up with bland, disappointing mouthfuls of just pita. But if you put too many fixins into it, the pita will disappointingly fall apart under the load. The pita has little flexibility in it’s load bearing capabilities.
Pita is also not flexible in its taste profile. There is no fluffy sourdough. Or robust rye. Or moist multigrain. With pita you get dry wheat or dry white. That’s all. No other choices.
If you don’t fill the pocket with flavor, it’s like eating soft cardboard. If you overfill it with flavor, the pita will pop holes and, well, it becomes a big mess that you have to clean up.
This should give you enough background to fully understand the impact of the Pita Principle.
The Pita Principle Explained
People are like bread.
Some are rye, some sourdough. Some are hugely flexible in their capabilities, and some, a large sum of some, are the pita of people.
You may be familiar with the Peter Principle of management. This states that if a person is good in their role, they will continue to be promoted higher up the leadership ladder until the point in which they can’t actually handle the job they are supposed to do. Promotion to the point of incompetence.
The Pita Principle is slightly different, but it’s an important difference.
With the Pita Principle, a person is not promoted through different job at different levels. The pita people excel at one job, at one level.
Pita people don’t ask to be promoted. They don’t necessarily want to be promoted. Oftentimes they don’t even ask for additional responsibilities, though they are usually the ones who will help, without hesitation, when asked.
Pita people may seem to have a broad skillset. You may believe they could excel in many types of roles. But they aren’t interested in that. They never asked for that. They are happy enough where they are.
Give a pita person too much responsibility and they will fall apart. Give them too little and you don’t get the productivity you need. Try to advance a pita person into upper-level management and it will never work out, leaving a mess that you’ll need to clean up.
The Critical Importance of Pita People
Like the first 4000 years of the pita bread, some people are simply designed to do one job. They are an important utensil that keeps your business moving forward. Your business relies on them.
If you keep them focused on just that one job, they will do it and do it well. If you try to advance them too much, it will fall apart.
As leaders, we may expect everybody to be like us: motivated to rise up through the ranks and expand their usefulness into new areas of expertise. It simply isn’t true. Many people do one job, they do it well, and they don’t have the flexibility or desire to extend beyond that one role.
The pita people are critical to the working of a company. They create consistency and process like few other roles can fill. Treat them well and they could be the most reliable and loyal of all workers, with little-to-no desire for corporate advancement.
But if you try to turn them into something they aren’t, they will disappoint you like an overfilled pita sandwich.
So how about you do this, right here, right now. Who are the pita people at your company? Reach out to them and make sure they understand how much you appreciate the people they are and that you’ll never turn them into a bad sandwich bread.
“A great employee is like a four leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have."
- Tammy Cohen
Leadership lessons in 4 minutes or less. Subscribe now for free!
The Moon. Life is short. Start checking off the boxes on your bucket list (just not this one)
V-Day Love. Struggle coming up with Valentine’s Day gifts each year? (reserve yours now)
Guinness. He beat the record for beating records (GOAT)
Another Useless Website. Roadside trees look the same everywhere (random)
This Week’s Book Review
by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 6 of 10
For fans of: Realistic science fiction, global warming, eco-terrorism
This is the first book I’ve read of Kim Stanley Robinson’s (hereafter, KSR). He is an extremely popular Sci Fi writer, best know for three books centered on Mars that he wrote in the 90s.
The Ministry of the Future is an amazing story that is impeccably researched and extensively thought through. Parts of this book may end up less Sci Fi and more history in the future years, that’s how realistic parts of the vision are.
It starts in the year 2025. The countries in the Paris Accord decide to create a new subgroup - the Ministry of the Future - that is focused on creating action to solve the… read more