Book Review: The Joy of Work

A major problem with most business books (from the view of the average worker) is that they are aimed at executives and managers.  The books discuss a lot about how to motivate workers, improve their effectiveness, and generally get them to work longer and harder for less pay (and frequently, with less of them doing the work).  This is a great goal for managers, but not exactly the top priority of most employees.

Enter The Joy of Work.  Scott Adams (the author of Dilbert) writes a book squarely aimed at the average cubicle dwelling office worker, designed to help them maximize their happiness at work.  Does it have useful applications to the real world, or should we leave it to Dilbert and his cubicle dwelling brethren?

Summary

Joy of WorkThe Joy of Work starts with a chapter aptly entitled ‘The Joy of Work’, wherein Scott Adams espouses his theory that happiness creates money.  Happier people get better jobs, are more willing to take smart risks, and even appear smarter.  Thus, the goal for workers should be to maximize their happiness, for all the intangible benefits (plus, it does feel rather good).

The second chapter is devoted to handling a major obstacle to employee happiness: your boss.  Depending on your particular boss type (whether they are capable or incompetent, harmless or evil), there are different basic strategies to use, from avoidance or refocusing their attention to upwardly delegating tasks.  There’s also a section on how to avoid having your work being measured, so as to escape the trap of having your progress checked against your goals.

The third chapter is about reverse telecommuting, the process of doing personal work at the office.  It starts by stressing the importance of an unmonitored internet connection, and provides a number of ways to either sleep during business hours or accomplish personal work when your company expects you to be working (like writing a novel one paragraph at a time, then emailing them to yourself throughout the business day).  The chapter ends with a list of inventions that cubicle dwellers could use, such as an in-cube motion detector.

The next two chapters are about having fun at the expense of your office mates.  Chapter four includes ways of laughing at the problems of your coworkers, from starting false rumors (about the boss hiring a nail stylist as your new boss) to the joy of being sarcastic.  Chapter five takes it even further, providing a list of possible office pranks (most sent in by readers); if you want to embarrass your coworkers, particularly if you have a decent knowledge of computer programming, there’s plenty of joke fodder to be found.

Chapter six discusses how to survive meetings, from bringing in a Game Boy (disguised as a PDA) to embarrassing the presenter by raising annoying (and difficult to research) issues.  Chapter seven provides ways of dealing with your coworkers, by bossing them around or using the power of an office move to your advantage.  It ends with a handy list of logical errors, called ‘You Are Wrong Because’, providing a number of ways people come to incorrect conclusions.  (My personal favorite is ‘Faulty Pattern Recognition-Example: “His last six wives were murdered mysteriously.  I hope to be wife number seven.” ‘)

Chapter eight is the longest chapter in the book, about bringing humor and creativity to your job.  It provides some methods of managing your creativity, rather than your time (by leaving yourself some free time when you are at your most creative, for example).  It also provides many of Adams’ methods of creating humor, particularly his “Two of Six” rule; all humor uses at least two of the six dimensions of cuteness, meanness, bizarreness, recognizability, naughtiness and cleverness.  Find ways to combine them, and you’ll instantly create humor.

Chapter nine covers different methods of handling critics, depending on whether they are contrarians, sadists, nuts, or have valid criticisms (as Adams calls them, bastards).  The major method of avoiding criticism he provides is to recognize the proximity of your comments; it doesn’t matter what you meant, but rather, how people interpret your meaning on the basis of the context.  The chapter ends with Adams sharing the story of how he was criticized by Norman Soloman for being anti-worker (as a result of a quote taken out of context), and how he got back by, well, mocking Norman Soloman in The Joy of Work (as well as a snarky comic or two).

Chapter ten covers the downside of applying the methods in the book, namely that in spite of being a semi-famous (in his words) comic strip writer, Adams spends most of his life cleaning cat related stains out of his ‘white’ carpet and avoiding people who try to send him things.  The paperback edition ends with an afterword, telling of the death of one of his cats, and stressing how having a pet can make your life better.

Pros

-Very Funny: As you might guess for a guy who writes a daily comic strip for a living, Adams has quite a way with words.  His advice, even when ludicrously impractical, unethical, or illegal, is hilariously witty and quite well written.  There will definitely be some recognition of people you know (and possibly people you work for) in the course of this book.

-Decent Guide to Office Pranks: If you’re in an office where you don’t need to worry that one wrong step will lead to you being unemployed, there are plenty of light-hearted pranks listed here that you could try.  Even if you (like me) are more likely to be a victim rather than a puller of these pranks, knowing about them makes it that much easier to avoid falling for them.

-Some Good Advice: While most of the suggestions in the book would, if implemented, get you ‘fired, sued, or beaten’ (in Adams’ own words), there are some good points made at times, as well.  His advice on creating humor and allowing yourself time to be creative is actually applicable and well worth trying to apply.  (His ‘You Are Wrong Because’ list could also serve as the crash course in logic that so many people seem to need.)

Cons

Could Cause Your Coworkers to Hate You: If you actually do much of what is listed in the first two thirds of the book, from turning your boss on your coworkers to pulling pranks, you’re likely to cause your coworkers to resent or even hate you.  You can’t really blame them, if you’re taking advice from a book subtitled ‘Dilbert’s Guide to Finding Happiness at the Expense of Your Co-workers’.  At best, expect to have some pranks pulled on you in turn; at worst, there’s the possibility for punishments from your boss.  Speaking of your boss…

-Could Get You Fired: With a general theme of minimizing how much useful work you do, keeping your boss from giving you any real assignments, and using office time to do personal work, there’s a good chance following the advice contained within could get you canned.  Even Adams recommends only following the advice when the job market is strong; if it’s too easy for your boss to have you replaced, any advantages to making you happier at work will quickly disappear if you lose your job.

Most Applicable for Office Workers: Even if you can ignore the risks from angering your coworkers and boss, there’s still the issue that most of the ‘advice’ provided only works if you have access to a computer, a phone, and a host of victims within hearing (or peeking over cubicle walls) range.  In other words, if you work in a cubicle.  Otherwise, there’s not too much advice in here you’ll be able to apply, at least during work hours.

Conclusion

If you are a fan of Dilbert and want some thoughts on creating humor and managing creativity, The Joy of Work is definitely a good read.  Just don’t follow much of the advice on boss managing, pranks, and reverse telecommuting unless you have a really relaxed corporate culture (or simply want to be fired).  But if you do, be sure to let Scott Adams know for the next edition of his book.

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