A Hint Of Evil, And Laughter May Be The Only Antidote

Thanks to this HBR Ideacast we had the opportunity to listen to the author of this book discuss its core message(s). Anyone who has looked at a few Dilbert cartoons can pretty well figure out that its author is not what you may think a typical MBA is. About 10 minutes into the podcast, the most remarkable statement, worthy of your attention, begins:

DAN MCGINN: So you’re saying management really doesn’t matter?

SCOTT ADAMS: I think it’s certainly something you can do wrong. So avoiding doing it wrong is the big thing. And I think if you’re a bit of a psychopath or sociopath, I don’t know the exact definitions of those, you know, if you push people to think that you being happier, and you as the manager making more money, and you as the company making more money is more important than the employees’ own personal life and their health, then you’re a great manager. And you absolutely can do great things. And you’ll probably be able to reproduce that wherever you go.

So there’s a certain amount of evil that’s built into the system. It’s a creative evil. I mean, I’m very pro capitalism, because I don’t have a better idea that obviously works. But you’ve got to embrace that evil a little bit and you’ve got to understand that that’s part of the process, and that’s always been a problem for me.

DAN MCGINN: Do you really believe the Dilbert principle, the idea that the least competent people become bosses, because it’s the place where they can do the least harm?

SCOTT ADAMS: Well, at the time it was written, I was working at Pacific Bell. And they very much were doing that exact thing. So the people who were a little bit technical, but, really, they weren’t going to be inventing the next iPod or anything else, those people got moved to management, because, maybe, their bullshit skills were good, that was about it. And the people who were geniuses, the technology gurus, the people who were really going to make a difference, the last thing you want to do is ruin their productivity by moving them into management and making them order donuts and schedule meetings.

On the author’s website, some more interesting commentary on the book:

My new non-Dilbert book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Sort of the Story of My Life, is due out on October 22nd and I am happy to report that the reviewers are pleased with it. You’ll need to navigate to the 5thpage on this Barron’s review to see one reviewer’s opinion.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised that the descriptions and reviews you see of this book won’t entirely capture its essence. That’s because I designed the book to work on three levels. The top level is a series of stories about some of my most embarrassing failures. You might enjoy reading about the face-plants I’ve taken along the road. You’ll also hear the strange story of how I lost my ability to speak for over three years to an allegedly incurable brain problem.

The next level describes the strategies I’ve used since college to capitalize on my failures, ramp up my personal energy, increase my market value, and create a situation in which luck could more easily find me. It’s not an advice book, but you might find it useful to learn about one person’s unusual strategy for success and how it all turned out. Generally speaking, before you try anything risky, it’s a good idea to ask others how they approached the same situation. I hope my experience is helpful in that sense.

The third level in this book is emotional. I designed the book to raise the energy level of the reader without the reader knowing that’s the plan. If I succeeded, which is an admittedly rare situation, readers will simply feel good while reading it. And that energy can be useful for whatever you hope to achieve in life.

I can’t predict how the market will receive this book, but I’m fairly sure it’s my best work, and that’s enough for me at this point in my life. I feel as if I didn’t have the skills until recently to write this tale the way it needed to be written. I’d like to thank each of you regular blog readers for helping me hone those skills. I test a lot of things out on you folks and your reactions are my classroom. I take a hybrid business/science approach to writing in which I test a hypothesis, observe reader reactions, and try to learn something. You’ll recognize some of my thought patterns in the book, but it’s 98% new material.

The How to Fail… book is the sum of what I’ve learned over a lifetime filtered the way you taught me to write. If you’re curious, you can preorder the book now, and it will make me happy if you do.

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