Book Review – The Dilbert Principle

Perhaps you to work in a cubicle, and share it with someone else to boot.  Perhaps your boss tries to humiliate you more than supervising you.  Perhaps your company spends more time reorganizing than making its products or providing its services, or perhaps you can’t even remember what your company does.  So, you ask yourself, ‘Just how many companies are like this’?

The Dilbert Principle is just the book for you.  It provides many of the Dilbert comics from Scott Adams, as well as his thoughts on everything from managers to downsizing.  Is there much insight on how companies actually work (or at least, more than a few laughs)? Let’s read on to find out!

Summary

Dilbert PrincipleThe book starts with the Prologue, sharing the book’s Big Idea: to allow Adams to make a great deal of money repeating a few bullet points.  The Introduction then starts to cover some of the horrible business ideas out there, and how businesses have an unfortunate tendency to resemble Dilbert comics (a horrible result).  It notes that evolution has been thwarted, with the printing press and other communication methods allowing the really smart people to build up technology far above the level that the rest of us ninnies can keep up.  That leads us to the rest of the book:

Chapter 1 – The Dilbert Principle

This chapter provides the Dilbert Principle: “The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place they can do the least damage – Management”  This (sadly accurate) principle explains why all the managers you know seem to have less intelligence than the workers, and why you, a hard-working, skillful, intelligent person, are unlikely to be promoted.

Chapter 2 – Humiliation

Humiliation is a great method for keeping workers from becoming too happy, and thus becoming unproductive (or *gasp* wanting to be promoted).  Here you’ll read numerous methods for providing that humiliation, from cubicles to dress codes, allowing your workers to be at the right level of happiness (aka, not terribly happy, but still productive).

Chapter 3 – Business Communication

Clear communication is a horrible thing from a manager’s perspective: if you communicate clearly, there is a chance you could be wrong, and that can result in problems.   This chapter notes numerous methods of ineffective business communication, such as visions, mission statements, and presentations.

Chapter 4 – Great Lies of Management

There are numerous lies in the business world, but this chapter provides some of the biggest ones.  These include things like ‘Employees are our most valuable assets’ and ‘Our people are the best’; if the last point is correct, why do they keep working somewhere that resembles a Dilbert comic.

Chapter 5 – Machiavellian Methods

This chapter was written by Dogbert, which should tell Dilberts fans everything they need to know about what is inside.  For those of you who aren’t, let’s just say that it provides every underhanded, deceitful, and just plain mean method of advancing your management career at the expense of your workers, fellow managers, and company at large.

Chapter 6 – Employee Strategies

Luckily for employees, there are things you can do, as well.  This chapter covers the concept of Virtual Hourly Compensation, noting that when something happens that should increase your productivity (i.e., the rise of personal computers), nature compensates by giving you a way to use it to slack off (i.e., the Internet).  It then provides some other ways to get benefits from work, such as stealing office supplies.

Chapter 7 – Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are horribly degrading experiences, and the best way to handle them is to lie about your accomplishments.  This chapter provides you some advice on how to do so.

Chapter 8 – Pretending to Work

Why do you need to lie about your performance?  Well, if you are successful at pretending to work, you might want to look productive, for, say, a performance review. Enjoy advice on how to look productive while not actually working.

Chapter 9 – Swearing: The Key to Success for Women

If you are a woman, being able to curse (particularly at men who’d otherwise consider you too weak otherwise) is the key to success.  That pretty well covers the material in this chapter.

Chapter 10 – How to Get Your Way

Here are several methods to ensure that you get your way in corporate decision making, from ensuring that your suggestion is the final one made, after everyone else has torn apart the other suggestions, to ignoring any project that will take longer than six months (aka, as long as most organizational charts last).

Chapter 11 – Marketing and Communications

This is the first of several chapters that covers various fields in the typical company, in this case, those people who are marketing a product.  Basically, some of the best ways to con people into buying your product are covered.

Chapter 12 – Management Consultants

Suggest doing things the exact opposite way a company is currently doing them, and then charge you a lot of money for that advice.  That pretty much sums up the advice to consultants covered here.  (And is definitely true, if your consultant is a small, round, white dog with glasses.)

Chapter 13 – Business Plans

The basic way to create business plans is to gather information (sales and revenue projections primarily) and then ignore it.  If you need some advice on how to do either of these steps, look here for some suggestions.

Chapter 14 – Engineers, Scientists, Programmers, and Other Odd People

The technical people in your company are undoubtedly a strange type (said by someone who is one of them), and here are some tips on how to handle them.  (Also, there is a note that female engineers are incredibly desirable their entire life; if you want to be successful and wanted, ladies, go into engineering.)

Chapter 15 – Change

The biggest suggestion that consultants give is to change, and the biggest worry that most workers have is that they will be hurt by change.  It also has a tendency to lead to an endless cycle of constantly changing, never staying the same for more than a few months at a time (which is as effective as you might guess).

Chapter 16 – Budgeting

This chapter is less about the budgeting process itself, and more about making sure that your department doesn’t lose money in the next budgeting reorganization.  These techniques include everything from lying to really, really lying.

Chapter 17 – Sales

Speaking of lying, the seventeenth chapter covers sales, which provides several methods of improving your sales, mainly involving lying, or at least, purposefully omitting important details.  (You might notice a reoccurring theme of lying in many of these chapters.)

Chapter 18 – Meetings

Whenever you go to a meeting, there will be people who act in the same roles the entire time.  Here, you’ll see those roles laid out, so you can choose the role that you want.  (I prefer ‘The Sleeper” myself.)

Chapter 19 – Projects

Want to know why your company has trouble finishing any major projects?  If they follow the practices noted here, that should give you an idea.  (That there is nothing in the ‘Completing the Project’ should give you a clue about how successful many companies tend to be in completing projects.)

Chapter 20 – ISO 9001

Do you have to document everything that you do at work and label everything that you use?  If so, you can blame ISO-9000 (and its follow-ups) for its restrictions.

Chapter 21 – Downsizing

Here’s what many employees fear the most, being fired, and how to rename it (‘downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’ or similar things) so it doesn’t seem as bad, even though such terms now are seen as code for ‘fired without any good reason’.

Chapter 22 – How to Tell If Your Company Is Doomed

Companies fail all the time, unfortunately, leaving hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people without jobs.  Here you can see some signs that your company is headed in that direction.

Chapter 23 – Reengineering

This chapter looks at reengineering, the process of completely reshaping how a company does things.  Since there are more than a few people at most companies that like things the way they are, this process is usually doomed to failure.

Chapter 24 – Team-Building Exercises

Team-building exercises, at least as Adams experienced, was ineffective, humiliating, and simply horrible.  After a short story or two about his own experiences, there are plenty of comics and reader experiences of just such humiliation.

Chapter 25 – Leaders

Leaders in general are horrible, horrible people, whose major qualification is good hair.  That sums up this chapter pretty well, although there are plenty of stories to prove the point.

Chapter 26 – New Company Model: OA5

After 25 chapters of the horrors of modern workplaces, Adams provides his own model.  The Out At 5 method focuses on giving employees freedom to do things in their own way, so long as they get done, and having managers focus on teaching employees rather than advancing their own careers at the cost of others.

Pros

  • Funny: It’s a book by a professional cartoonist; as you might guess, it is funny, first and foremost, with lots of comics and funny stories from Dilbert readers.  That said:
  • Surprisingly Accurate: Between the compliments from businessmen to the many stories included, there are far too many people who experience this sort of thing everyday.
  • Ends on an Encouraging Note: In spite of all the depressing stories in the book, the OA5 chapter does provide an interesting method to reorganizing current businesses (and it seems like many modern companies, mainly software companies, have been following much of the advice).

Cons

  • Horrible Exaggeration: Companies aren’t actually like this in the real world; it’s stretching the truth for comic effect, right?  If not:
  • Depressing: There is no doubt about it; if you read this book, and your company (or any company you’ve once worked for) sounds like the (non-OA5) companies described within, you’re going to be sad,

Overall

The Dilbert Principle is a great read, very humorous and quite insightful (sad to say).  It’s enjoyable, as are Dilbert books in general.  Here’s hoping you don’t work in a company that resembles Dilbert’s employer too much, but if so, here’s hoping this book is extra funny to you.

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