Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Dilbert Frames

Bad Bosses Are Good For Economy - Scott Adams

Source: Economic Times

Scott Adams feels difficult bosses can be good as they force their employees to quit their jobs and turn entrepreneurs. For someone who built his reputation lampooning corner rooms and their occupants, Scott Adams has had a change of heart.

The creator of Dilbert, the cartoon strip that adds a comic element to 2,000 solemn newspapers across 70 countries, including ET, has discovered merit in evil bosses. Call it the effect of recession, but Adams is convinced that difficult bosses can be good, as they help spawn entrepreneurs.

“The worse the bosses are, the better it is for the economy. In the old days, people were born entrepreneurs, but today people are forced into entrepreneurship whether they like it or not,” he told ET in an interview.

His comments may pertain to the US and how the worst economic situation since the Great Depression has affected that country, but California resident Adams could well be looking at India and Indians from the same entrepreneurial prism going forward.

And future Dilbert strips could see India and Indians depicted differently. Adams says that Indians have moved far ahead of the image of the smart, yet inexperienced office intern Asok, who is one of Dilbert’s colleagues. An IITan by qualification, Asok has been bestowed with psychic powers but continues to work for someone. But this might change soon. “He’s the most confident person with the least power. Maybe, I’ll have him strike out and be an entrepreneur some day.” (Check out some strips featuring Asok below)

Adams, 52, started his career in 1979 with Crocker National Bank (later acquired by Wells Fargo) and then at Pacific Bell where he began working on his cartoon strip. For the past 20 years, Adams’ cartoons have ridiculed corporate workplaces and the ‘Cubicle life’ and everything around it — from management fads to consultants to evil bosses. But he says the central character of Dilbert borrows a bit from his own personality.

“I certainly have shared some of his traits. I’m socially awkward and had trouble getting dates when I was his age, and a bit nerdy, so there’s a lot of me in him. But I am more of Dogbert — the side of me that has a running conversation in my head saying inappropriate things. I use Dogbert as the character who says out loud the things I’m thinking.”

But if there’s one thing that makes Adams uniquely qualified to talk about entrepreneurship is his shot at running real businesses.

First was Scott Adams Foods, which developed the Dilberito, a vegetarian burrito that was sold online and through convenience stores in the US until four years ago when Adams sold it off. The restaurant business was next. Adams partnered with restaurater Stacey Belkins to open two Stacey’s Cafe outlets in his home town. One of them had to be closed down, and the employees were asked to go.

Adams says he was shocked to find some of them stealing equipment, even as he was doling out severance pay cheques. “I had dipped into my pockets to give them a nice severance. So, as I was telling people and there were tears and people hugging, some of them slipped into the back and cleaned out the electronics from the storage room. They were actually robbing me.”

Could that explain his charitable view of bad bosses? “Trouble is that in order to be a good boss you got to be kind of a jerk, you got to be selfish and be willing to hurt other people to advance your own cause. I’m not like that. People try and take advantage of me pretty easily,” says Adams, who has for years entertained millions every morning with his wit on employer-employee relationships.

Asked about the impact of the US recession on Dilbert, Adams has his own — and distinctive —take. “There are two things going on in the US right now. If you don’t have a job — and that’s a lot of people — then things are pretty bad obviously. But those people who have kept their jobs, what they’re finding is that the price of stuff is lower. When you order something that used to take a lot of weeks to be built and get shipped to you, you’re getting it in a month.. In a weird way, there are a lot of people who are moving into houses they couldn’t have afforded before the crash.”

From a Dilbert point of view, the US recession has done some good. “There’s a period when everything is great and it’s an employees market and they ask for more money or they’re going somewhere else. But right now we’re in a period where obviously you want to keep your employer happy because finding another job is going to be hard,” says Adams.

And this new insight has a source. Adams, who is building a new ‘green’ home in Pleasanton, California, is seeing attitudes change first-hand. “You’ve never seen such good cooperation from all the sub-contractors. Everybody shows to work because there isn’t that much work to have. It turned out to be the very best time to build a house because everybody’s so eager to work. It’s strange because usually the upside is not very obvious. I’m sure during the Great Depression there probably wasn’t anybody who was better off.”

Parting Dilberitos

1. I would definitely say, don’t quit your day job till you’ve got the entrepreneurial adventure well on its way.

2. When I was a commercial bank manager, we used to never loan money to people who had a passion, like a hobby, that they were trying to turn into a business. You got to distinguish between that which excites you personally and that which the public is likely to be excited by. So that’s a big mistake.

3. The biggest trick is, knowing when to quit which I haven’t been quite good at. Because my observation is that things that work tend to work right away.

4. As much as possible, you want to limit the number of people who have influence on a decision.

5. I would advise people to take the risk that you can survive.

6. I would also advise people to look for the type of venture where even if it doesn’t work you come out ahead because you gain experience in something that’s relatively valuable. I would call that failing forward. ‘To be a good boss you’ve to be selfish & hurt others’



Asok is an engineer from an IIT...

... and is interning in the company Dilbert works for:

Here are Asok's misadventures with the Boss:

... and his interactions with colleagues:
But, the funniest are Asok's interactions with HR:
Here's my favourite one for obvious reasons!