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Incompetence, Inc.

"Hey, I work for Kruger Industrial Smoothing: 'We don't care, and it shows.'"
George Costanza, Seinfeld

Many people have jobs, because they like having money to pay bills and such. Some companies offering those jobs are fun, others aren't.

And then there are some companies where unless you have an economics degree from an Ivy League university, you have absolutely no idea how the company stays in business, thanks to the staggering, mind-numbing degree of incompetence in the company. And in some really extreme cases, even with such a degree you're baffled.

In the real world, there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that would allow an otherwise apparently incompetent business to stay active, ranging from serving as tax write-offs for larger companies, to holding monopolies on a specific resource, and beyond, but most stories don't get anywhere near that detailed in their observations of Real Life issues like those, for the companies they depict.

May be controlled or managed by pointy haired bosses, be staffed mostly with bogglingly stupid employees, have installations with tons of safety violations, saddled with ludicrous rules and regulations that make no sense outside of some bureaucratic hell, or some combination of the above.

Compare to Murder, Inc., Law Enforcement, Inc., Evil Inc., and the eponymous organization of Monsters, Inc..


Examples

Film
  • Weyland-Yutani corp in Alien movies, despite being a powerful Mega Corp. that has its own private army and hundreds of other personnel has spent a great deal of effort in capturing the xenomorphs, which usually ends with the xenomorphs running loose and killing everyone in their facilities.

Literature
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is every single trait of one of these turned Up to Eleven. The Complaints Department ("Share and Enjoy") occupies all the major landmasses of three planets and is the only profitable part of the company. The popularity of its products is justified, in a Played for Laughs kind of way.
    It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation products by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words— and this is the rock-solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's galaxywide success is founded— their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws.
    • Megadodo Publishing, publisher of the eponymous Guide, isn't much better. It's often patchy in coverage (the entry on the Universe was copied from a breakfast cereal box, for instance), and inaccuracies have been known to cause deaths, such as "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal for visiting tourists," rather than "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal of visiting tourists".
  • The Manuscriptorium in Septimus Heap progressively becomes this after Beetle's dismissal. Among others, the Safe Charms disappear, and when Beetle returns as Marcia Overstrand's emissary he's shocked at seeing the derelict state of the entrance - which was formerly his responsibility.
  • Incompetence. The whole of Europe has become this after Political Correctness Gone Mad legislation. In particular, companies are prohibited from discriminating based on competence, so they aren't able to use a potential employee's ability to actually do the job as a hiring criteria.
  • Atlas Shrugged:
    • Being over a year late in delivering rail is par for the course for Associated Steel, and this was for one their best customers. There's no indication of how much longer it might take to deliver. For less influential firms delivery is functionally never going to happen. Their incompetence almost dooms an entire industry at least once.
    • Also Taggart Transcontinental — any time James Taggart or someone he appointed is making the decisions. A line is built to Mexico that is over-budget and less than half finished by its original completion date.
  • The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin (made into the film Hour of Glory in 1949) details the internal struggles of a team of World War II scientists and public servants who are the embodiment of this trope. The team spends its time working on an anti-tank weapon that is theoretically efficient but has little practical field value. The protagonist is a decent yet weak man who fails to take the tough steps needed to improve matters, while his Manipulative Bastard friend delights in deposing those whom he's deemed incompetent, but ends up putting an even more incompetent man in charge of the team.

Live-Action TV
  • The Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in The Office (US) is kept from failing mostly through the competence of Jim and Dwight, and that people stop fooling around each time the branch's incompetence comes under scrutiny (the ones who can't shape up usually get fired).
  • The Drew Carey Show:
    • When a Dutch corporation buys Winfred-Louder out, the new bosses tell Drew that they are amazed that the company managed to stay in business, since Drew appeared to be the only competent employee.
    • From the same show, DrugCo, the company Lewis works for. While they're apparently a pharmaceutical company, it's apparently run by mad scientists, with such experiments as combining a monkey and a hippo (a "monkapotamus"), and experimental breasts implants for men. As a janitor, Lewis has to clean up a lot of these messes, and it's implied all of it has really messed with his head.
  • The Bluth Company on Arrested Development stayed in business despite the fact they appeared to have exactly one competent employee. Gross amounts of money were "borrowed" by the Bluth family for personal purposes, yet it survived until the end of the series despite it constantly being publicly known for its incompetence and corruption.
  • Kruger Industrial Smoothing in Seinfeld, where Costanza applied for a job because of the fact that it had "no management whatsoever" and that it "couldn't smooth a silk sheet on a hot date" hoping to get a cushy job. He got the job but eventually even he got tired of the company's inability to get any work done and quit.
    Mr. Kruger: According to our latest quarterly thing, Kruger Industrial Smoothing is heading into the red. Or the black, or whatever the bad one is. Any thoughts?
  • Prescott Pharmaceuticals, the supposed sponsor of the "Cheating Death" segment of The Colbert Report, is a lawsuit-ridden fictional company that specializes in coming up with gruesome, bizarre drugs to cure the medical scare of the month in the most unnecessarily painful and idiotic ways possible, famous for their even more gruesome, bizarre side-effects.

Newspaper Comics
  • The company that Dilbert works at, generally nameless aside from one-off joke strips that don't hold beyond that strip (or episode, for the TV show, with "Path-E-Tech Management" being most notable). Apparently the company gets bought and sold by larger companies so often that even the employees aren't sure who they're "working" for most of the time. This has been zig-zagged with Evil Inc. depending on the joke.

Roleplay

Video Games
  • Aperture Science in Portal. They made lots of innovative products, but didn't know how to use them correctly. For an example, propulsion and repulsion gels would have had many practical uses, but they used them in dietary products that worked too well, resulting in the user dying of starvation or of the horrible toxicity of the gels. The portal gun itself was originally designed as a shower curtain. Most of this comes from the company being run by an eccentric madman who was then replaced by a sentient computer program, both of which took far more pleasure in just running inhuman experiments on test subjects than actually trying to apply the knowledge from those tests in any meaningful way.
  • Although less obvious on the outside than Aperture Science, in that they are actually a profitable business, Black Mesa from Half-Life is also an example of this. In the opening sequence on the train, Freeman travels over a storage tank leaking huge amounts of what is presumably toxic waste, sees a missile casually lying around, and nearly crashes into a robot wandering on the tracks. Throughout the course of the game you'll be forced to traverse terribly weak catwalks, building designs that make zero sense, and the infamous room that seems to have no other purpose other than to smash boxes.
  • It took multiple zombie virus outbreaks caused by the Resident Evil's Umbrella Corporation before the shareholders finally bailed and the company got shut down.
  • Atlas in Borderlands. While it does make good-quality firearms like the Atlas Chimera Revolver™, Kyros' Spear™, its soldiers are competent, and it can effectively build colonies on planets, its management is idiotic. How much? A five-year-old admiral is put in charge thanks to "Goddamn Nepotism," it's full of cheerful and pointless Comedic Sociopathy, and the propaganda department is full of card carrying villainy.
  • In Borderlands 2, while Mister Torgue is a pretty cool guy himself and a talented weapons designer who founded his own corporation, Torgue Corporation, solely on his skill with explosive weaponry, he is absolutely incompetent when it comes to actually running the company. He tends to focus his resources more on blowing shit up and staging illegal death matches and is not above getting his own employees killed out of poor management and short-sightedness by entering them in said death matches.
  • Cerberus of Mass Effect has a long history of experiments that go horribly wrong, backfire and end with almost all parties involved killed. Among fans, this is known as the Cerberus Taco Cart Theorem. Lampshaded in the Citadel DLC of Mass Effect 3, when Joker discusses how most of their experiments end.
    Joker: Hey, Commander, this is Cerberus. We were studying some rachni... and they got loose and killed all our guys. Can you take care of that? It's one system away from where we hooked some guy up to the geth... who then got loose and killed all our guys.
  • The Orochi Group in The Secret World shows this side a lot. As the game goes on, dead or filth (the main corruption/threat in the game) infected former Orochi operatives become a quite common sight.

Webcomics

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons:
    • Mr. Burns's nuclear power plant has, aside from literally hundreds of safety violations, a staff of incredibly stupid and incompetent employees (Homer Simpson is really only slightly more inept than the rest), and the plant is falling apart, to the point where it would cost $100,000,000 just to bring it up to code. Security is also alarmingly lax, to the point that a child spy from Communist Albania was able to get a look at the plant facilities simply by asking Homer for a tour, with Homer replying that he could probably do it by "pulling some strings with the boys in security." The company really only makes money due to being the sole electric power provider to the Springfield area, and highly efficient corruption that allows crooked public officials to actually choose their bribes a la Lets Make A Deal.
    • The company's collective work ethic can also be demonstrated by the fact that everyone at the plant indulges in "Nap Time" all at once. Even when they're awake, all of the employees except for Smithers are slackers. In one episode, Homer sneaks out of work by getting Lenny to "cover for him", which consists of Lenny replacing Homer in lazing around in Homer's chair and eating his donuts. This gets a Call Back in a much later episode when Homer gets Mr. Burns to cover for him. Mr. Burns then ends up being the one to laze in the chair and eat donuts.
    • Any company that makes an endorsement deal with Krusty the Clown is guaranteed to produce the shoddiest goods in existence. You're lucky if you bought a product with Krusty's face on it that simply isn't working right. Chances are it'll be downright dangerous to use, or in some cases, even just to touch. Most of the time, Krusty isn't even trying to pretend he cares about the quality of any product carrying his name.
  • The spy agency, ISIS, where the core characters of Archer work, is largely staffed with petty and lazy workers who focus more on their hedonistic lives during the work day than on actual work, and is in constant financial hardship due to the field agents' and Malory's shameless embezzling of company money. This over-spending has gone on for years, and it has been noted by the company's head accountant that, for fifteen quarters, the company has ended up in the red. At the beginning of season three ISIS manages to turn a profit, briefly, when Archer goes missing for three months; however, Ray probably burns through this when he uses company money to buy a yacht and charter a flight, all in the name of rescuing Archer. In the field, agents let petty bickering and sheer, unfiltered idiocy get in the way of their jobs, and multiple villains have gotten away because of this incompetence. In the Season 4 episode "The Papal Chase", a cardinal hires ISIS to protect the Pope because he knows they'll fail.

Impartial Purpose-Driven FactionOrganization IndexThe Irish Mob
I Don't Like the Sound of That PlaceSettingsIndian Burial Ground
Dangerous WorkplaceI Need an Index by MondayThe Inspector Is Coming
Inciting IncidentAdded Alliterative AppealInconvenient Itch
Impossibly Delicious FoodAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Incorruptible Pure Pureness

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