Is Your Company Still Practicing 
The Dilbert Principle?
by Henry K.

Scott Adams' The Dilbert Principle is a work - of what I’m not so sure, but it certainly is funny. His unabashed attempt to cash in on the lucrative business book market in 1997 was a great success - because he was just too right on the mark in highlighting the absolute stupidity of what went on in many (most) organizations. (Especially after all of the rightsizing, TQM, and empowerment.) 

It is absolutely hilarious to look back at the absurdities of the cubicled bureaucracy and the behaviours that Scott so accurately satirized. But surely that stupidity is all behind us. It's the new millennium - and we've learned so much about what makes businesses work and how to unleash the creative talent of our people. Of that I'm not so sure, as in my travels and experiences I still see so much evidence that convinces me that The Dilbert Principle is still alive and well in so many organizations. 

So try on a little of Adams’ earlier insight and I’m sure you’ll buy the book to learn more. I'm going to certify it as one of the best business books of all time. And take a good look in the mirror to see if you've made progress.

Is your CEO’s office plastered with mission statements and change initiatives?

Are you asked for status reports on status reports?

Have bonuses been replaced with novelty items inscribed with the corporate logo?

Are idiots promoted because they have good hair?

A few excerpts:

Why is business so absurd? Most of the themes in my comic strip “Dilbert” involve workplace situations. I routinely include bizarre and unworldly elements such as sadistic talking animals, troll-like accountants, and employees turning into dish-rags after the life force has been drained from their bodies. And yet the comment I hear most often is, “That’s just like my company.”

“... after careful analysis I have developed a sophisticated theory to explain the existence of ... bizarre workplace behaviour. People are idiots. Including me. Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only differences among us is that we’re idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot. That’s the central premise of this scholarly work.”

“Throughout this book I will make references to scientific studies. Of course, they’ll all be total fabrications. But my versions will make better reading than legitimate research, and ultimately the impact is the same. If you think about it, most of the studies you see in the media are either completely misleading or intentionally biased. This book is no different, except that I don’t underestimate your intelligence. I mean, how could I?”

“I’m sure there are other plausible explanations for why business seems so absurd but I can’t think of any. If I do, I’ll write another book for you. I promise I won’t stop searching for the answer until you run out of money.”

“When people stare at you in disbelief do you repeat what you just said, only louder and more slowly?” 

“There are no recognition programs at the highest levels of the organization. This is a motivating factor for lower-level employees. They know that if they work hard they have a chance of reaching a level of management where ‘recognition’  programs don’t exist.”

“The great thing about the truth is that there are so many ways to avoid it without being a liar.”

... and more on Great Lies of Management, Machiavellian Methods, Pretending to Work, How to Get Your Way, Change, Meetings, and How to Tell If Your Company is Doomed.

I think Scott will soon be out with an update - something to do with the dot com logic that has taken us all for a roller coaster ride through 2000. Fortunately for Scott, businesses just keep on providing him wonderful material to work with. 

So the moral of this little story? Get with a program - any program that gets your associates off having a smurk and a laugh and identifying with the so very silly (and so very accurate) satirization of life at work in this day and age. And if you don't know what to do - put The Dilbert Principle to work for you. Sincerely invite all of your associates to share any Dilbert clip that resembles their reality with you, and take it seriously. It might just be an interesting and fun way to engage your associates in creating a better and more fulfilling way of working together. And that I think, is the true brilliance of Scott Adams' work.

The Dilbert Principle:
A Cubicle's-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads and Other Workplace Afflictions
by Scott Adams,
published by Harper Business, New York, 1997.


Many more articles on Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2000 by Henry K. All rights reserved.

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