Incompetence, Inc.

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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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 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 otherwise allow an 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.

Quite a bit of Truth in Television, but no such examples here, please. Compare to Murder, Inc., Law Enforcement, Inc., Evil, Inc., and the eponymous organization of Monsters, Inc.

No real life examples, please; there are so many businesses that have failed because of poor management that this is too common to trope.

Examples of Incompetence, Inc. include:



  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is every single trait of one of these turned Up to Eleven. Their complaints department occupies all the major landmasses of three planets. Megadodo Publishing, publisher of the eponymous Guide, isn't a lot better.
  • The Manuscriptorium in Septimus Heap progressively becomes this after Beetle's dismissal.

Live-Action TV

  • The Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in the American version of The Office 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).
  • Grace Brothers in Are You Being Served.
  • Winfred-Louder in The Drew Carey Show. When a Dutch corporation buys them 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, Drug Co, 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.
  • The Phone Company, as depicted by Lily Tomlin's "Ernestine" on Saturday Night Live. "Here at the Phone Company, we handle eighty-four billion calls a year. Serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth. So, we realize that, every so often, you can’t get an operator, or for no apparent reason your phone goes out of order, or perhaps you get charged for a call you didn’t make" but "We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the Phone Company."

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). 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.

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 and they used them in dietary products that worked too well, resulting in the user dying of starvation. The portal gun itself was originally designed as a shower curtain. Safety isn't considered that important[1]. Also the engineers seem to suffer from an engineering version of a Complexity Addiction in their designs. For example the turrets possess an empathy chip and an empathy suppressor[2]. The writers of the game series considered having an assembly line of turrets being built, packaged, unpackaged, destroyed, and recycled; along with a ever growing pile of barely used packaging.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Mr Burns's nuclear power plant in The Simpsons. Aside from literally hundreds of safety violations, the company is staffed by 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. 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 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 boss' and the title character's extravagant expenditures from their corporate accounts. 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. It's only after Archer goes missing for three months by the beginning of Season 3 that ISIS turns a profit.
  1. the engineers don't have the sense to be reasonable in regards to making things with safety in mind, but at least the lab rat comic shows us one of them of them has the sense to use their less preferred hand in a situation where the arm being used might be torn off, or better yet, to get someone else to do the dangerous thing for them.
  2. One could make the case that the empathy suppressor is there to sidestep the spirit of possible regulations but not the letter. Such a case would likely be overlooking Aperture Science's disregard for the law in other regards (most prominently, No OSHA Compliance).