Survival Guide: Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert" comic strip

Scott Adams, "Dilbert" creator

J. Adam Fenster

Scott Adams, whose past jobs include bank teller, computer programmer, financial analyst, product manager, loan officer, corporate strategist and engineer, has found fame and fortune as the creator of "Dilbert," the hugely popular comic strip that skewers the working world through the eyes of Dilbert, Dogbert and the other workers at a technology firm where virtually every project is set up to fail.
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"Dilbert" has spawned 20 books and a slew of merchandise, from coffee mugs to frozen vegetarian burritos called Dilberitos. Adams, who lives in Danville, Calif., recently traveled to the East Coast on a promotional tour for his newest book, "Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel." The 45-year-old artist and workplace commentator spoke with Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery about lessons that technology firms can learn from "Dilbert," weasel math and other workplace pitfalls.

 

WT: What are the lessons learned that technology firms should take from your strip?

Adams: Everybody is a weasel. Reduce your stress by assuming nobody is going to do what they say they will do. That way, you won't be shocked when it doesn't happen.

The thing you've got to watch out for when buying technology is weasel math, which is where you replace small numbers that embarrass you with large numbers that make you look good. It's a problem if you think you know what you're buying. Every vendor is pretty sure they are lowest cost, because they have found ways to confuse the buyer and leave out key things that will surprise the buyer later.

 

WT: Workers everywhere -- and perhaps especially tech workers -- toil away in cubicles. How can they be productive while working in these open environments?

Adams: The whole point of the cubicle as an invention was to increase communication. I don't know anyone who works in a cubicle who wishes there were more communication.

WT: Is it possible to be productive while working in a cubicle?

Adams: No.

 

WT: If Dilbert could give one piece of advice on how to make the workplace better, what would it be?

Adams: Hammocks in cubicles, since there is a lot of downtime.

 

WT: What is wrong with management today, and what should it be like?

Adams: Management is really the delusion that you can make lazy and dumb people do good work if you have a good enough mission statement. I don't think you can fix a delusion. There might be some pharmaceutical solution.

 

WT: You've been mining recent news of corporate wrongdoing for strip material. What do you find funny about corporate misconduct?

Adams: The funny thing is that only the dumb people have been caught. All the smart ones are getting away with it.

 

WT: You have been quoted saying that creating Dilbert isn't a joy, and you wouldn't do it if you didn't get paid. Is that accurate?

Adams: That might have been a misquote. But ... it's a job. I do it because people want to read it, and it's better than most jobs. I'm glad to have it. I don't do it for fun.

 

WT: Is having fun at work an impossibility?

Adams: If you had fun, they would charge you for being there.

 

WT: What gave you the idea for "The Way of the Weasel"?

Adams: It seemed to me there was a huge weasel bubble in society. Movie theaters were making up movie reviews, historians were making up history, ice skating judges were fixing competitions, priests were having more sex than we were. It's not just the politicians. It's everywhere. *

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