Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Book Report: The Dilbert Principle

There are only two books I've read more than twice. Michael Chrighton's Sphere (awesome science fiction that's much better than the movie with a miscast Sharon Stone playing an unattractive scientist who is self conscious about her inability to attract men) and The Dilbert Principle. Nobody in the past 15 years has accurately captured office existence, and nerd sub-culture in particular, than Scott Adams. Dilbert personifies all that it means to be an engineer with everything to his clothing, love of problem solving, and lack of social skills. In 1996, Adams expanded on an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal into a book:

The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle's-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions

While The Dilbert Principle does rely heavily on previously published comics material, Adams seamlessly weaves his prior work into longer examinations on office phenomena such as Great Lies of Management, Pretending to Work, and How to Get Your Way. Most of these topics are very tongue-in-cheek and you might get fired for taking some of his suggestions. Still, all of them ring true for the various jobs I've had over the years and reader emails he integrates into the text suggests that I'm not alone.

Most of this book is about stress relief, really. It depicts ridiculous office situations we've all had to sit through while justifiably pointing a mocking finger. This is why I've read it 3 times. When I get frustrated at some new policy or irritated at somebody to the point where my head feels like it will explode, I pick a random chapter and find myself laughing at the absurdity of it all.

The last section, though, surprisingly offers very useful productivity suggestions for how Adams would run a company were he the CEO. Some things, like letting employees dress any way they want and keeping managers out of peoples way you can't implement on your own. Others, you can, including (from page 332-3 of the first edition):

  • Do creative work in the morning and do routine, brainless work in the afternoon.
  • Keep meetings short. Get the the point and get on.
  • Blow off low-priority activities and make it clear why.
  • Respectfully interrupt people who talk too long without getting to the point.
  • Be efficient in the little things.
These are the kinds of things I try to cover here that lead to greater output and better performance reviews. You can't always do all of them, I know I don't no matter how hard I try, but if you do things like these most of the time you'll find yourself better off in the long term.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 11:52 AM   2 comments


At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Dan Hildebrand said...

I read "The Dilbert Principle" in what must have been the 8th grade. No matter how young I was or how irrelevant all of the Scott Adams content seemed at the time, the book was still amazing. I like to theorize that Scott Adam's message applies beyond the office, and in fact applies to the life of a college student.

I think RPI's president may be a PHB in disguise and I know for a fact that nearly all of the students here typify characters found in other parts of the Dilbert universe. Oh god, I think I'm trapped.

At 1:28 AM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

Everybody has a little PHB in them. Except my boss, of course 8).


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