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Incompetence, Inc.

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

Many people have jobs, because people need money to pay their bills, clothe themselves, keep a roof over their heads, and put food on their tables. Some of the companies that offer these jobs are fun, while others... aren't.

And then there are some companies where, unless you've got an economics degree from an Ivy League university, you'll have absolutely no idea how they're staying in business, thanks to the staggering, mind-numbing degree of incompetence displayed by those who run it. And in some really extreme cases, even with such a degree, you're still 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, to being a once prosperous business that fell on hard times, to simply ridiculous amounts of corruption, and beyond. But, due to the sheer complexity of it, most stories don't get anywhere near that detailed in their observations of Real Life issues like those for the companies they depict. Sometimes they serve a more sinister purpose, from front businesses to hide illegal activities and launder the money gained from them are a well-established phenomenon, to dysfunctional businesses with no apparent client base that still somehow manage to continue operating.


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.

If the incompetent company masquerades themselves with nice-sounding names, then it can overlap with Peace & Love, Incorporated.



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     Anime and Manga 
  • Despite their seemingly good intentions, this is what the Hero Association from One-Punch Man really is: a company run by incompetent boobs and superpowered narcissistic megalomaniacs. Several other heroes try to actually help out, but they have to contend with the aforementioned Sociopathic heroes who are rather more of a hindrance to everyone. The villains and monsters' jobs would be much easier if they simply sit back and watch the heroes fight amongst themselves.
  • Wiz's Magic Shop in KonoSuba specializes in selling items that are either too high-level for a town full of low-level adventurers or have dangerous curses on them. Even when the much more competent Vanir starts helping out, Wiz usually spends everything he makes on more useless merchandise.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman has Arkham Asylum, a Cardboard Prison who's employees are incapable of curing its patients or keeping them from getting out.
  • The Boys has Vought-American, the corporation behind the superheroes in the setting. As well as the fact that their superheroes are all incompetent and depraved psychopaths, VA was known for producing shoddy military equipment that did more harm to the US military than the enemies they were fighting. They're an interesting example of this trope in that they're actually shown to be frighteningly competent at everything a corporation needs to do to get its products out the door (marketing, lobbying, manipulating regulations, weaseling out of controversies, general-purpose corporate skulduggery), but their actual products cut corners whenever possible. Their philosophy is built around the idea that a corporation's output doesn't have to be good, it just has to turn a profit—rather than making their products good, they focus on burying any evidence that people shouldn't buy their stuff. Stilwell has a Villainous Breakdown at the end when he realizes that he's going to have to spend the rest of his career selling "bad product" since there's no way to actually make superheroes work.
  • Depending on the Writer, Marvel Comics has Roxxon Industries, which is sometimes portrayed as a sinister threat, and other times, it’s basically portrayed as what any of Tony Stark's companies might be if they lacked his inventive genius or ethics. Few of the company's creations work, and most of the ones that do are just inferior knock-offs of other companies' designs. The fact that the management is eager to commit major, and often violent, crimes in pursuit of profits bites them in the butt even more with the superheroes stepping in to stop them doesn't help. Yet somehow, despite all that, the company is miraculously still standing. Honestly, the only reason why the company hasn’t gone under by now is probably due to contrivance and Joker Immunity.
  • In Double Duck The Agency is replaced by the spying equivalent of this, The Direction. Their agents are good, as they've inherited all assets from The Agency... But the Obstructive Bureaucrats that are the new administrators have released all of their identities to the public in the name of transparency and "burned" Kay-K over her criminal past (the exact same thing The Agency used to get her to work for them and rehabilitate), thus forcing one of the most competent superspies in the world back to a life of crime. As a result some of the staff and agents that escaped having their identities exposed went rogue, with Zig Zago (formerly the chief's secretary), Double Duck, and others reforming The Agency to do the job The Direction is supposed to do.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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. In one strip, the Pointy-Haired Boss points to a chart which proves "'Incompetence' has become our more important product," and Alice is amazed it won out over "Lying to Customers."
  • In Retail, Grumbel's tends to promote based on lack of competence, its executives are prone to make arbitrary changes for their own aggrandizement at the expense of its workers and writes draconian policies that make no logical sense. In the end of the strip, Grumbels' incompetence faces the reality of the retail apocalypse and went out of business, with all the lead characters quitting before liquidation and leaving Stuart Suche with a sinking ship.
  • In one The Far Side comic, a board meeting at the Wonkers Weiners company has the chairman noting how the company is, in his own words, "riddled with incompetence". To prove his point, there's a picture of a hotdog pointing sideways from its bun above him.
  • Agatha Crumm ran her own cookie company and her workers were definitely this trope, earning her wrath.

     Fan Fiction 
  • Nerv Technologies, inc. in The Cubicle Adventures:
    • While most of the rank-and-file software engineers are actually fairly intelligent and do know how to do their jobs, they have no idea what their jobs are and what the company does, as they seem to just be assigned random tasks:
      • Shinji, despite being a software engineer, is pretty much given secretarial work.
      • Kensuke does VB database design.
      • Toji has been making programs for syncing bank account databases and checks, despite, as they all note, pretty much every bank either already having those, and that Nerv uses an OS that nobody else uses.
      • Kaworu has been designing an OS to replace their current OS, but keeps being sidetracked by random, meaningless tasks that the management keeps giving him.
      • Rei has been designing an anti-virus program, but also keeps getting sidetracked by random tasks they give her.
      • They all come to the conclusion that their company is some sort of freelance programming company. It's eventually revealed that the company is supposed to specialise in database work for companies like banks, and that Toji is the only engineer they have doing the actual job the company is supposed to do.
    • They use an OS called Betamax, which is a cheap, terrible knockoff that isn't compatible with any Microsoft OS, Linux, or MS-DOS, and they agreed to buy licenses that made it so the OS would stop working after ten years unless they renewed the licenses, which they can't do because the company that sold them it went under only two years after they bought the OS.
      • Instead of simply buying an actual OS that anybody else uses to replace it, the management forms a team to make their own OS (which most likely won't be compatible with anyone elses), and completely forget that they already had Kaworu making one, and don't bother putting him on the team even after Shinji points this fact out.
      • In the meantime, they replace all the software engineers' now dead computers with typewriters. The management seems to forget that this is useless because you can't program with a typewriter.
    • The employee handbook is "severely convoluted, and almost five hundred pages long".
    • Misato, the tech supervisor, sexually harasses Shinji pretty much every time they meet. She is also one of the few members of the management who has even a shred of competence, but she's also not very high-ranking. She ends up being replaced by Naoko Akagi, who used to be the marketing supervisor, but got transferred because she had better tech skills than people skills (translated: she's an asshole who is completely open about being an asshole and probably never should have been in marketing).
    • For some reason, their server is connected to their boiler, so when the engineers put a virus on it to screw it up after getting laid off, they accidentally cause the boiler to explode.
    • They form a committee to figure out where everyone's staplers have gone. Also, all of the staplers apparently just disappeared.
  • Tales from the Other Railway has the Other Railway, which is even worse than its counterpart of the Island of Sodor.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Initech in Office Space is a prime example- bloated, uncaring management, unhappy employees, and a general sense of gloom- indeed, Lumbergh abuses Milton for no real reason. The consultants hired to help reduce costs are shocked when Peter informs them that he has eight bosses. Thankfully, they get their Laser-Guided Karma- Milton ends up Going Postal and burning the office down.
  • Weyland-Yutani Corp. in the 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. Alien: Resurrection reveals that the incompetence actually had consequences, culminating in Weyland-Yutani being bought out by Walmart.
  • OCP in the RoboCop films is what happens when a corporation takes the mindset of American car companies of the time, and then transfers it to law enforcement. Pretty much all their products are Cool, but Inefficient at best, and they sink millions of dollars into flashy technologies that don't actually work while leaving the actual police understaffed and underequipped. The titular character is their only unqualified success that we see, and even that seems to have been a total fluke, as their many, many Disastrous Demonstrations can attest to. By the third film, they've fallen into such dire straits that they've been bought out by a Japanese Mega-Corp.

  • 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 Overcorrectness 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.
  • The Ferryman Institute: While the titular Institute is essential to human existence, it is implied that the Institute's success rate has dropped significantly in the following centuries due to a mix of mismanagement and the massive rise in the human population, the founding of the various other competing institutes a result of the workload needing more than one institution to handle it all. In-fact, one of the reasons why the Council would not let Charles retire is because his success rate legitimizes the Ferryman Institute on a grand scale.

    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). We are later told that they are actually one of the most profitable branches in the company which makes one wonder just how incredibly incompetent the staff of the low performing branches must be.
    • The Michael Scott Paper Company operates rather well despite being run by Michael but it is then revealed to have a hopelessly incompetent business plan under which the company will never make any profit.
  • 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 breast implants tested on 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.
  • A recurring bit on Kitchen Nightmares is marveling at how some of these restaurants were able to stay open long enough for Gordon Ramsey to visit. Gordon has lost count of how many establishments have owners with zero experience in running a restaurant and it shows.
    • One place serves a "vegetarian" meal that quite clearly has meat in it.
    • Numerous places have horrible kitchens, complete with bugs and/or raw or spoiled ingredients mixed with fresh stuff.
    • One place has Gordon having to calmly explain to the owners that the "Soup of the Day" is supposed to change every day.
    • The infamous Amy's Baking Company, run by a pair of certifiable lunatics who steal tips from their staff, openly scream at their customers and are in denial over their horrible food. No wonder this is the one place so bad that Gordon just gives up and walks out on them.
  • Likewise, Bar Rescue has John Taffer astounded at just how horribly run some of these bars are. Notable is a place on Bourbon Street in New Orleans which actually managed to lose money during Mardi Gras on a street where any bar is good business.
    • A famous episode has John taking on the owner of a pirate-themed bar on her horrid food and terrible decor and theme. He gives it a huge makeover to a style better for the young business area. On a "Back to the Bar" episode, John learns that just three days after he left, the owner threw out all the new decor (literally burning the new sign), went back to the pirate theme...and was out of business just months later.
  • 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.
  • Entertainment 720 from Parks and Recreation, a short-lived "premiere, high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate" founded by Tom and his idiot friend Jean-Ralphio. It had no business plan, clients or revenues, employed beautiful women and pro athletes at massive salaries with no job duties, and recklessly spent money like a Silicon Valley startup on crack, despite being located in a small city in Indiana. With Ben's guidance they eventually settled on the idea of being marketing consultants, but by that point they had burned through all their capital, with Leslie's election campaign as their only client.
  • Seinfeld:
    • Kruger Industrial Smoothing, where Costanza applies for a job because of the fact that it has "no management whatsoever" and that it "couldn't smooth a silk sheet on a hot date" hoping to get a cushy job.
      • He gets the job but eventually even he gets tired of the company's inability to get any work done and quits.
        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?
      • And of course, this gem:
        George: Would you mind helping me out with some of this stuff?!?
        Mr. Kruger: You seem like you've got a pretty good handle on it.
        George: No, I don't! Don't you even care? This is YOUR company!
        It's your name on the outside of the building! Speaking of which, the "R" fell off and all it says now is "K Uger!"
        Mr. Kruger: K Uger, that sounds like one of those old-time car horns, huh? K Ooger! K Ooger!
    • The J. Peterman Catalogue is better than Kruger, but not by much. Peterman himself is... flaky at best, and at one point Elaine is made president of the company for the sole reason that she happened to be in the closest physical proximity to Peterman when he decided to quit and leave the country.
  • 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.
  • Are You Being Served? has Grace Brothers as the main setting. It is a declining, old-fashioned British department store run by two doddering old men whose managerial practices are hopelessly out of touch with reality while the staff continually bicker among themselves in petty rivalries for privileges and sales quotas.
  • The IT Crowd: Our leads work at Reynholm Industries, which is nothing more than "A lot of sexy people, not doing much work and having affairs!". Nobody knows what Reynholm actually does, and 99% of the employees don't know how to turn on a computer, let alone plug it in.
  • Top Gear (UK) (during the May/Clarkson/Hammond seasons) and The Grand Tour feature this in spades, and in a rare non-corporate example. In the former, The Stig is the only competent driver out of all the presenters. Of course it is debatable how much of this is staged for comedic purposes.
  • Rumpole of the Bailey: In "Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade", Rumpole has acquired a reputation as such, following a run of poor cases in district court. On return to the Bailey he is then hired as part of a Springtime for Hitler plot by a pair of gangsters hoping to get their stuttering brother convicted to cover up their own crime. However Rumpole is fired up by the return to the Bailey, a number of mean remarks about his dress sense, and the prospect of defending a nice juicy murder rather than common assaults or indecent exposure cases found in district court, and manages to win it instead.
  • On a small scale, Paddy's Pub in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia manages to stay afloat for one reason and one reason only: its co-owner, Frank Reynolds, has an Arbitrarily Large Bank Account from his years as a corporate raider. Aside from that, it's an iconic example of a dive bar, with every single employee being on a One-Hour Work Week, a cleanliness situation so bad that the janitor deals with rats using a spiked bat, and most of the customers being forced to serve themselves. It's been labeled "the worst bar in Philadelphia" on at least one occasion.

    Video Games 
  • Affordable Space Adventures has Uexplore, a space travel company with a product allowing people to explore the stars affordably and safely (so safe, in fact, that their director of safety and her staff are on extended vacation because they don't need to work), with the prospect of owning a plot of land on an exotic and gorgeous newly-discovered alien planet... At least, that's what their advertisement says. The transport ship transporting everyone crash-lands on said alien planet (killing everyone but you in the process), the planet turns out to be rather inhospitable in a multitude of ways, and their distress pods are unreliable to boot. And even after finding one that does work, it turns out that the staff in charge of safety and handling rescue actually are all out on vacation. The player and everyone else who has successfully gotten into cryosleep might survive and be rescued, but a lot of people at Uexplore are probably going to jail for the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of people.
  • Seegson of Alien: Isolation is a more serious, realistic example. The company greatly over-extended itself in an attempt to exploit the space colonization rush, but its deep-space stations failed to take off versus terraforming and conventional colonization. The company had been in a downward spiral ever since, with apathetic executives and employees of dubious talent. Most of their products are cheap knock-offs of franchise mainstay Weyland-Yutani, with the Working Joes being the epitome of this incompetence. By the time Amanda gets to Sevastopol, the place was mostly abandoned even before the titular creature showed up.
  • Assassin's Creed: While Abstergo Industries is simply a full-blown Evil, Inc., its entertainment / propaganda branch, Abstergo Entertainment, is right here. Their safety manual includes such helpful advice as "stick your hand in fire to see if it's real", they manage to have two Assassins infiltrate their headquarters with little to no effort in disguising themselves, and it's implied their actual products are largely crap, with their headline feature bombing spectacularly hard.
  • Joey Drew Studios in Bendy and the Ink Machine: The way it's presented over the course of the game, was a nightmare to work at. The ever-present, all-encompassing Ink Machine ensured that the place was perpetually loud and covered in ink leaks, the artist's desks were tucked into every corner of the studio, the animations stopped getting finished on time, and Drew's outlandish ideas, from the Machine itself to an entire theme park dedicated to Bendy, were so expensive, Grant Cohen actually went insane trying to make the company finances work. Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs, however, as by the time Henry arrives, the studio has been defunct for years, if not decades.
  • In the Borderlands series, several of the weapons manufacturers make excellent weapons... but are useless at everything else.
    • Atlas in the first game, though events in it lead to it becoming entirely defunct in the second game. While it does make good-quality firearms like the Atlas Chimera Revolver™ and 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. They get better in Borderlands 3 courtesy of Rhys.
    • Hyperion under the employ of Handsome Jack, the primary antagonist of Borderlands 2, was worse. He treated his human workers and the robotic Loaders as expendable pawns, built a city near an area teeming with bandits, Threshers, and Stalkers, and was willing to resurrect an ancient alien Kaiju not knowing or caring that he'd eventually lose total control of it and possibly let it loose on the people of Pandora. As shown in Tales from the Borderlands, middle-management outright worships Jack to the point that violent psychopathy and backstabbing are a natural part of the corporate culture. It was so bad that by the time Borderlands 3 rolls around the new management wanted to distance themselves from Jack posthumously and wash their hands of him.
    • While Mister Torgue is a pretty cool guy himself and a talented weapons designer who founded 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. It still beats working under Jack. Eventually, his shareholders managed to buy the controlling shares off of him with just $12 and a hi-five and demote him to a spokesperson.
  • Fallout 4 has HalluciGen, a pre-war drug, chemical, and weapon manufacturing company that had a plush government contract. It turned out they were better at promising fantastic products than delivering them; their demonstrations were only tricks or went spectacularly wrong, and the products they actually managed to make did not work as advertised. One thing they tried to create was supposed to be a dispersant to prevent or peacefully break up riots, instead they made one that created riots. The one test noted in game that, when tested on a group of 5 people, two of the people were injured by the delivery device, a fragmentation grenade. Four out of five killed each other when the gas caused their adrenal glands to rupture and the 5th died from a heart attack. Another device was supposed to be a handheld field de-contaminator. They ended up building a two ton machine that irradiates people. If the Gunners shooting at each other when you enter their chemical-fogged headquarters (which was presumably caused by the dispersant) isn't an indication that they were terrible at their job, the long list of disclaimers following each of their products in the demonstration chambers makes things pretty clear.
    • Nuka-Cola is the most popular brand of drink in the US, with vending machines on every street corner. The drink is so ubiquitous that bottle caps form the cornerstone of the franchise's economy. They are also startlingly idiotic in a way that is hard to differentiate from active malice. Their factories were dangerous even before 200 years of abandonment and nuclear war took their toll, and their drinks were loaded with potentially toxic chemicals.
      • For example, one internal memo featured in Fallout 76 states that while creating Nuka-Cola Quantum's signature glow, the company tested two variants of a radioactive isotope, Strontium-85, and Strontium-90. The company chose to use Sr-85, as it was cheaper to synthesize. Note that Sr-90 is a byproduct of nuclear fallout, and Sr-85 is harmless and often used in medical tracer fluids. Note again that Nuka-Cola weren't concerned about the health hazards. Only that it was CHEAPER TO PRODUCE. And that's just Quantum, the other drinks such as Project: Walrus which contained methamphetamines don't even bare thinking about.
    • Vault-Tec is also impressively idiotic for somebody in such a vital position as long-term underground bunker construction. It's been common knowledge among players of the games that the Vaults were never actually meant to save anyone, they were just sociological experiments to see how people would respond to long-term isolation. The plan being their "control Vaults" (Filled with politicians, industrialists and similar) would then open, load everybody onto spaceships and peace out for a new life among the stars. But if the Whitesprings Bunker and Vault 111 are anything to go by, the Control Vaults would either murder one another, or be murdered by their own control AI's gone rogue.
  • Fazbear Entertainment of Five Nights at Freddy's takes corporate incompetence to an absolutely lethal degree. Even if you toss aside the Hostile Animatronics and the child murders on company grounds, they designed wearable animatronic suits that kill the wearer if they so much as even breathe wrong (and if such an incident were to occur during business hours, instead of seeking immediate medical attention, the hapless victim is instead directed to go into the off-camera back room to bleed out, so as not to ruin the customer experience). Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator allows you, the player, to take it to its logical conclusion by having almost everything in your restaurant be nothing but creatively thrown-together junk, like a ball pit literally made out of a cardboard box or an "animatronic" consisting of a milk crate with googly eyes, two foam fingers, and literally nothing else. Depending on how you run the business, the game will "award" you with certificates of Mediocrity (do effectively nothing the whole game.), Bankrupcy (run out of money from lawsuits) or just outright blacklisted (Have so many lawsuits that even Fazbear Entertainment doesn't want anything to do with you) from working in the town.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: The Pegorino crime family and its don Jimmy Pegorino want to get a seat on the Liberty City Mafia Commission, but nobody takes them seriously. The other gangs look down at them, and even the United Liberty Paper contact calls them a joke. That Pegorino is nothing but a Miles Gloriosus speaks volumes. In both endings, the Pegorinos are essentially defunct with Pegorino being killed off by either Dmitri Rascalov (Deal) or Niko (Revenge).
  • Although less obvious on the outside than Portal's Aperture Science, in that they are actually a profitable business, Black Mesa from Half-Life is also an example of this, leading to the trope "Scenic Tour Level" being formerly called "Black Mesa Commute". 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. Even aside from that, poking around the general employee environments suggest a lot of incompetence going on, like the dozens of screens displaying error messages, the console with a massive hole in it, and the programming area with constant blaring music. One corridor in Sector D Administration (the level with the walk-in freezer and the tentacles in the silo) has a sign that actually commands employees to "work harder, not smarter".
    Freeman: "Work harder, not smarter." Yeah, that's us, alright. We stay the course with stupid.
  • Journey to the Savage Planet: Kindred Aerospace accidentally overpolluted Earth beyond salvation, and most of their astronauts are poorly-trained tourists who constantly get themselves killed. The other Mega-corps have also dropped the ball on competence since they already rule the world.
  • Cerberus of Mass Effect has a long history of highly unethical and amoral experiments that go horribly wrong, backfire and end with almost all parties involved killed and nothing useful gained. Among fans, this is known as the Cerberus Taco Cart Theorem. The fact that they were all indoctrinated by the time of 3 didn't help anything, but they were screwing up long before they were confirmed indoctrinated.
    • 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.
    • In the same conversation Miranda Lawson, after joining Shepard and also rebelling against Cerberus, claimed that her management of the Lazarus project which revived Shepard was truly successful.
      Shepard: And after taking down the Collectors, I cut ties with Cerberus, got loose... and started killing all their guys!
    • And after Shepard's comment, EDI remarks that she is also a successful Cerberus project. Unfortunately, you can't point out that she also cut ties with Cerberus, helped abscond with the SR-2, took over one of their infiltration units, and started killing all their guys.
      • Jack is also a thing created by Cerberus that got loose and...
    • Some details in the Normandy's redesign between 2 and 3 plus conversations with Chief Engineer Adams show that Cerberus went for style over practicality in several areas, which less amusingly might have killed some of your guys in the previous game's Suicide Mission if you weren't careful. Apparently leather seats were more important to them than preventing the main power core from discharging right into the engine room when under stress.
  • 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 (which itself was supposed to be a fuel line de-icer), 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.
  • The Umbrella Corporation of Resident Evil, fine makers of uncontrollable zombie outbreaks. If they have one defense it's that they exist in a world where Solve the Soup Cans is the norm for all forms of locks and security. Less excusable is their preference for hiring backstabbing psychopaths exclusively for all their research and development. Said psychopaths like to take already virulent zombie viruses, tweak them, and inject them into different things to see what happens, and they have a tendency to murder each to claim their research for themselves. After at least four zombie outbreaks they were finally done in by their stock value plummeting.
  • Played with in the case of the Orochi Group in The Secret World. For the most part, the company is a highly-competent Mega-Corp with a spotless reputation in the mundane world and enough power to sway elections across the globe. It's just that the Orochi Group's attempts to harness the really dangerous phenomena of the Secret World have a tendency to go horribly, horribly wrong: quite apart from all the failed experiments of questionable morality and dubious scientific validity, a good many Orochi executives have decided to do such bone-headed things as shipping locusts, mutant fungi, Draug, and even samples of the Filth into company HQ in attempts to harness their clearly uncontrollable power. Part of this apparent stupidity can be attributed to executives being corrupted by the Filth, which has a tendency to warp the minds of infectees before they go One-Winged Angel. However the other reason for this is much nastier: the Orochi Group is being subverted from within by its own Chairwoman, who wants to harness the power behind the Filth for her own ends against the wishes of the company CEO, and is prepared to take serious risks in order to do so - and much of the crazed, stupid or just plain nasty execs work for her.
  • Merchantsoft in Hypnospace Outlaw. In an Alternate History 90s, they are the makers of the Brain–Computer Interface that allows people to browse their Hypnospace internet in their sleep. However, their hardware and software is often glitchy, trolls and hackers run wild, their interns are over-worked, and their Only Sane Employee gets reassigned to HSPD Enforcer dispatch. This all culminates in Dylan's glitchy code killing several Hypnospace users, and their subsequent framing of a hacker for the crime.
  • The Outer Worlds shows what happens when exceptionally incompetent corporations happen to be the governing entity of a space colony. Not only are most towns encountered either dangerously close to dying out or just plain abandoned due to cost-cutting practices and putting profits over human life, severe resource mismanagement has led to the colony facing a starvation crisis, with the Board's primary solution being to put the majority into cryostasis while the richest citizens continue living off the remaining resources.
    • The in-game brand "Spacer's Choice" deliberately invokes this. Their products are cheap, shoddy, and prone to failure, but "cheap" is their hook, targeting citizens on a budget who are too desperate to care about quality when anything is better than nothing at all, and the second guy you meet is a Spacer's Choice employee who is bleeding out because his own pistol misfired and shot him in the hip at the first sign of trouble. Their tagline reflects this: "It's not the best choice, its Spacer's Choice!"
  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales: Roxxon is just as incompetent here as they are in the main Marvel continuity, thanks to Simon Krieger's leadership. His obsession with meeting deadlines means that he has no problems overloading a reactor to make the appearance of meeting it, knowing full well that it's highly likely to explode, taking all of Harlem with it. Not to mention his continued promotion of Nuform as a clean energy source despite having full knowledge of its ludicrously toxic effects and insists on having the unstable energy source in the middle of a crowded city district instead of having the energy generated far off like Real Life power plants. In fact, he'd much rather murder whistleblowers like Rick than actually try to address the many, many glaring flaws with Nuform. Which causes even more problems because Rick was the only guy who knew how to make the stuff in the first place.
  • Warframe: AnyoCorp, run by the eponymous Nef Anyo is held aloft only by Anyo's superficial charisma, his ability to constantly scam investors, and the tireless work of the competent few who work under him. The company's directions are beholden almost entirely by Anyo's whims, which are almost always petty and misguided. The guy basically has a monopoly on terraforming Venus and has come close to flushing the operation SEVERAL times thanks to, but not limited to, sentient superheavy weapons platforms going rogue, randomly assigning collective punishments to his workers, and forcing a CENTURIES OLD terraforming tower into action when it was blatantly not ready. Oh, and he's also a crippling gambling addict, frequently pissing away credits and assets. It's a miracle he's still in business, and players have been calling for a boss-fight to finally kill the bastard for quite some time now.

    Web Comics 
  • The unnamed company Scott works at in Basic Instructions doesn't seem to actually do anything except hold "please don't fire us" briefings and occasionally force its employees to work late or engage in humiliating mistrust-building exercises.
  • The Hospital in Awful Hospital. It wasn't always as bad, and figuring out why things have gone so wrong is part of the story.
  • The White Beret Guy in xkcd owns and operates a company more in line with his own bizarre thought processes than with any laws of reality. Somehow, they still make money. Even they do not know where it's coming from.
  • Cthulhu Slippers's Cthulhu Corp. is about as much this as it is Evil, Inc., as the Elder Gods are portrayed more as Elder Imbeciles, products are more often than not fatal to their users, and employees (human or otherwise) are routinely eaten, mauled, afflicted with Body Horror, driven to insanity, or sacrificed by their coworkers for raises and promotions. Not only do they still sell products, they also have a steady stream of job applicants, temps, and interns.
  • In the early days of Sidekick Girl, this was how the Hero Agency was portrayed: Employing a bunch of pretty, but incompetent superhumans to play hero while their less-photogenic sidekicks did most of the heavy lifting. As the series has gone on, it's been shown that there are plenty of competent heroes on the roster and the Agency could be a force when called on. Their insistence on licensed heroes "looking the part" (leaving sidekicks like Val beneath the Sidekick Glass Ceiling) is their one real continuing flaw.
  • Three Panel Soul lampshades how Cerberus from Mass Effect have a tendency towards shooting themselves in the foot, with Shepard brushing off Miranda's warnings of The Illusive Man by stating that he couldn't run a Taco Cart without killing all of his guys.

    Web Original 
  • Team Four Star wrote the Shinra Corporation like this in Final Fantasy VII: Machinabridged. Because Shinra has a monopoly on Mako energy, to the point that they basically are the government, they spend money as they please with no regard to budget or scale. Reeve points out they're 37 trillion Gil in debt.
    • President Shinra drops the Sector 7 plate onto Midgar citizens to kill AVALANCHE (a group composing five people), reasoning their PR will take a hit, but they're the only game in town so it doesn't matter.
    • Part of their quarterly budget has to be set aside for bribes and legal fees because Heidegger assaults so many people on a regular basis.
    • Scarlett invested millions into building the Sister Ray, but it's nested in a mountain at Junon Harbor, which means it can only fire in one direction.
    • Palmer runs the Space Division, and literally burned 10 billion Gil in a fire thinking he could buy space that way like it was real estate. Even this was too much for the board of directors, and President Shinra revoked his budget privileges.
    • Rufus, for his part, is a bit more pragmatic, but after he takes over he tries to start investing in social media and streaming, to mixed success.
    • In the end, after Shinra High Command is defeated, the economy of Midgar is basically broken and everyone has to take oddjobs to make ends meet. The Turks in particular turn to delivery jobs and ASMR videos.
  • Alpha Team's training program is depicted this way in Alpha Team: Ogel's Last Stand. Their "training" consists of a Drill Sergeant who spends all his time forcing people to march "up and down the square" or brutally abusing recruits in an effort to teach them how to defend themselves against fresh fruit. Meanwhile their other programs include a "complaints" department with lessons on complaining, and lessons on being hit on the head. They seem to have gotten their act together by the time of the Dino Attack, though.
  • In Freeman's Mind, Gordon constantly laments how abominably stupid Black Mesa is. Their incompetence led to a resonance cascade that blew everything up, the entire building is designed to kill Gordon, and they outright have a sign that says "Work harder, not smarter."
  • Galactiquest's Interstellar Forces has quite a reputation for their incompetence. Examples include letting an unauthroized death ray be built, keeping the branch men-only based on quack science, letting someone infiltrate the organization while it was men-only, and most recently, staffing an important mission with mostly rookies.
  • When the Game Grumps uttered the words "fast crab" to describe an enemy (officially known as the Sand Crab) in their A Link Between Worlds playthrough, they immediately thought it sounded like the name of a useless internet startup company with no actual products.
    Arin: "I'm the CEO of Fast Crab International. I'm 22. I just graduated out of business school and well, I'm losing money." Fast Crab: We're losing money.
  • The "Geewun Redone" parody dubs of The Transformers depict both the Autobots and the Decepticons as this.
  • The Daily WTF often features stories about this sort of company. They're usually anonymized to Initech or some variant thereof.
  • The incompetence of Tumblr's staff is well-known and widely joked about among the site's users, with one common joke being that tumblr doesn't have targeted ads or posts sorted by relevance because its programmers are too incompetent to implement them. For a concrete example, one new feature that didn't last long was group chats... that were publically viewable.
  • Anodyne Inc., the proprietors of Mystery Flesh Pit National Park. Once a simple mining company, they decided that an absolutely huge animal unknown to science sleeping beneath Texas' Permian Basin would make an excellent tourist attraction. While this venture made Anodyne into a Mega-Corp, allowing them to build infrastructure inside this enormous creature and market everything from food additives to computers built with materials harvested from the animal's brain tissue, they were also astonishingly lax when it came to safety protocols. Park guests were constantly at risk of getting lost, dissolved or absorbed by the animal's organs, or even eaten by parasites living inside of the animal. All of that is without even getting into the oversights regarding infrastructure, which lead to a series of Disaster Dominoes on July 4th, 2007, where hundreds of people were killed or injured, most of the park's infrastructure was destroyed, the animal projectile vomited and very nearly woke up. Suffice to say, Anodyne filed for bankruptcy the following year.

    Western Animation 
  • This is the default assumption for any organization, business, or enterprise in The Simpsons, with the possible exception of Globex.
    • 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 Let's Make a Deal.
      • The company's collective work ethic can also be demonstrated by the fact that everyone at the plant sleeps 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.
      • Should someone, say, accidentally trigger a core meltdown in their sleep(!), the only thing preventing this is a trained dog. So much so that the pre-programmed warning messages are designed to commend the dog.
      • The plant's hiring policies verge between bizarre and outright illegal, since Mr. Burns himself makes all employment decisions without a single HR employee, apparently on a whim. Among others, he has employed animals (a duck named Stewart and a dog as VP), illegal aliens, professional athletes as ringers for the company softball team, a man who was openly loading a shotgun and declaring himself "the angel of death" at his desk, and the survivors of a plane crash that happened on his property. In one episode he promotes a crudely constructed dummy that Homer used to sneak out of work to management. Homer himself has briefly been replaced on separate occasions by a chicken and a brick.
      • In one episode, Globex targets the plant as a potential source of talented employees. They first approach Smithers, and when he turns them down they go for the number three guy at the plant — Homer. (In some fairness, he wasn't the next-best pick as their next-longest employee, but that's not much better.)
      • In "Homer the Smithers", Smithers decides to take a vacation. He decides to select the plant's stupidest and most incompetent employee to fill his role, so that Mr. Burns won't replace him. When Smithers goes through the company database, he finds that every single one of the plant's 714 employees match the negative descriptions he inputs. Finally, Smithers randomly picks Homer.
    • 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. Also, the quality of the Krusty Burgers restaurant chain often goes past awful and straight into life-threateningly unsanitary and in a few cases even into "crimes against humanity" territory (in a canon episode Krusty actually shreds a man's arm for hamburger meat and sells it to the guy), and his investing in it is equally stupid (the Chekhov's Gun that saves the Simpsons' lives in "Boy Scouts 'N' The Hood" is a Krusty Burger built on an oil rig... an unmanned oil rig. Krusty was warned that it was unmanned but it was obvious he didn't cared until he arrived to the fully-built restaurant and got bored out of his mind).
    • Powell Motors, a satire of the dire straits of a lot of American auto manufacturers in the 90s, falls into this pretty hard. They've designed so heavily for unassuming mid-tier good-mileage cars that none of their cars are even a little remarkable; Herb Powell, the CEO, grumbles that there's "maybe forty bucks of steel in these cars." The executives and management are incompetent and out-of-touch, insistent on focus-testing their mediocre products into oblivion while pursuing a pretentious and unappealing aesthetic. Herb tries to counter their downward spiral by having his half-brother Homer, supposedly the "average American," design a car. The resulting mess drives Powell Motors into bankruptcy.
    • Duff Beer, as depicted in "Duffless", has manufacturing processes so flawed that the single guy on their quality control team finds rats and syringes out of the bottles, and releases the exact same beer under three different names. One episode had them try to put out a non-alcoholic beer to stay afloat after Springfield had a brief spell of prohibition—they went bankrupt thirty minutes later.
    • Pretty much every business and operation in Springfield is some manner of crooked. Even The Mafia and regular criminals are incompetent (especially because they have zero idea of how to act "covert"), and only prosper as much as they do because the cops are worse.
  • 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. Ironically enough its one of the few, few missions where ISIS does succeed, and the cardinal is arrested.. The agency was shut down when it was revealed it was never sanctioned by the US government, and Malory had to give up the property so she and the other agents can avoid the charges against them, including treason for the aforementioned reason. Though the ISIS name itself was eventually phased out, in the later seasons that follow, the former agents were forced to work as a drug cartel, contracted (and eventually fired) by the CIA, and set up a private investigative agency, with about the same amount of success as their work in espionage.
  • This is how the Galactic Empire is presented in the Robot Chicken spoof of Star Wars.
  • Thomas & Friends: With all of the crashes and runaways on Sodor, it's a wonder Sir Topham Hatt's Railway stays in business, but the logging company on Misty Island especially applies, as it makes almost no profit since cranes like Old Wheezy keep throwing logs into the river.
  • The palace staff and residents in Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat. The Foolish Magistrate bumbles a lot, Tai-Tai only cares about being better than the "commoners", the Reader of the Rules is clumsy, and even some of the palace cats show signs of this trope. Even for a preschool show, this trope is heavy.
  • Wayside School. The principal is mind-bogglingly stupid, most of the teachers exhibit bizarre ways of doing things, the sole worker in the cafeteria is a textbook Cordon Bleugh Chef, the list goes on and on... and it's hard to imagine how this school hasn't been shut down yet.
  • Venture Industries in The Venture Bros. was once an R&D juggernaut with countless superscience innovations and a ton of prestige, but after Jonas Venture died and passed the reins to Rusty, it went completely to seed. It's so understaffed that the idea of anyone besides Rusty, his kids, and his bodyguard working at the company is treated as a surprise, and it pretty much entirely survives off Rusty's personal efforts at fulfilling government contracts (which often fail) and selling off its old assets, most of which are decades old. The Venture Compound is in such a poor state that entire sections of it have been shut down indefinitely, including the underground transit network, which is occupied by a cult. When the military came by to check on what projects were coming out, Rusty had to resort to painting his private jet black in an attempt to pass it off as a new stealth bomber. Its collapse at the end of the fifth season due to a fire burning down the compound was almost a Mercy Kill, though it did allow Rusty to jump ship to his late brother's company and promptly start running that one into the ground as well.
  • Touché Turtle and Dum Dum: In "Ant and Rave," The Ajax Exterminator Company is seemingly unable to keep their company picnic from being overrun by ants, so they're forced to bring in Touché and Dum Dum to save their outing.
  • The only thing we ever see of Acme Corporation in Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner most of the time is their output. What we do see, though, certainly doesn't give a good impression of them (though Wile E. Coyote does seem to hold one, given his impressive brand loyalty). About half of the Coyote's failures come from an Acme product malfunctioning in some fashion, either failing completely or overperforming to absurdity. Supposedly, it's based on various shady, mediocre companies that chose their name with the intention of being first in the phonebook.


Video Example(s):


Piggy Tales

The pigs demonstrate their incompetence in Piggy Tales: Pigs at Work E22 "Final Exam".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / IncompetenceInc

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