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Fred's Views

And Weasels Too

I love the Dilbert comic strip, and so I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Scott Adams, Dilbert's creator. I first discovered Dilbert during my early years surfing the web almost ten years ago. (I haven't read or bought a traditional newspaper in years.) Since then, I have purchased every major book of Dilbert comic strip collections and all of Scott's "business" books, the latest of which is Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel. It always amazes me how insightful and creative Scott can be. Most of the time, I can fully relate to and appreciate the strip, even though I worked for a college and have little, if any, "real world" experience. But once in a while a strip would come along that baffled me. I didn't get the joke or I couldn't relate to the situation. Until now, I thought it was I. I was too inexperienced or simply too stupid. Now, however, thanks to Scott's admission in Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel, I know it was really he. He was feeling lazy or had an off day. I can relax knowing that my brilliance has not been eclipsed after all.

For years, I have been practicing some of Scott's most important advice for employees, particularly inept employees, without knowing it. I have done my best to make myself invisible. I never went to any college functions where I might bump into someone higher up in the food chain. And, although I was one of the few in our department who actually did any work, I tried not to blow my own horn or draw attention to myself. As a result, I have survived several cut backs and managed to pretty much do the same job for nearly thirty-five years. In the process, I managed to create a couple of minor "kingdoms" for myself - until someone finally noticed me.

The biggest threat to my plan was a colleague and friend who simply bathed in the limelight. His nose was so brown I was sure it had become a black hole capable of sucking the life-source from anyone within five feet of him. He knew everybody. And he made sure everybody knew him - whether they wanted to or not. Unfortunately, If you happened to be within ear shot, he'd make sure everybody knew you, too. Of course by "everybody", I mean everybody higher up on the pecking order.

It was my misfortune to be paired with him on several "projects". I'm not saying he didn't carry his share of the load, but I will say that I tried my best to immerse myself in the "work" and let him deal with any authority figures. If the project failed, as it usually did, I made sure everybody knew he had worked on it, while keeping myself as far away from it as possible.

However, while I can identify with almost everything Scott has ever said, I have to point out a few errors I have discovered in his latest effort: Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel.

He says that one of the reasons he became a cartoonist and then cartoonist/writer is because he's lazy and writing is easy work. Okay, physically, you just have to sit there and pound away at the keys. It doesn't really matter what you type, if you keep at it long enough, you'll eventually create a few paragraphs that actually make sense, sort of. But that "style" of writing can take a long time, especially if you don't have an infinite number of monkeys helping you. For the rest of us, some mental processes are at work as well - at least part of the time. For example, I figure it takes me, on average, about four hours to pound out this thousand (or so) word column every week. (At this point, I have to say I do agree with Scott that the amount of work spent perfecting a "piece" is directly proportional to the pay received and the number of people who may view or use it. Since I receive no pay for my efforts, and my column is read by probably no more than two or three people, counting myself, - I love me - I seldom do any research or fact checking. I usually do it in one sitting, making only the changes that I deem necessary when re-reading it. I also have the advantage of having no editor to rein me in, force me to back up my positions or even force me to re-write or abandon a column entirely. If I had to figure in all of this "garbage" it could take me up to ten times as long to do a column.) Four hours may not seem like much, but that's 250 words an hour, a little over four words a minute, or about three seconds for each keystroke. I know I can type much faster than that (even with two fingers), so I must be doing something else during all this time. Even figuring in coffee breaks and bathroom breaks (how else would I find the time to read Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel), there's still a lot of time left for thinking. What I'm trying to say, somewhat unsuccessfully, is that writing is not easy. It's at least as hard as most other non-work that weasels do so well.

Scott also made an error of fact. In describing how poorly run the major airlines are, he tried to make a list of them so that the first letter of each would best describe those who made use of their services: "SUCKER". To make it work, he mistakenly called Canada's only major airline "Canada Air". Every one knows it's really "Air Canada" and that spells "SUAKER" in anyone's book - well, any book except Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel.

Scott is also an expert on retail sales. He points out that weasels not working on commission will go out of their way to not service a customer, going so far as not to restock their best selling item, just so they won't have to sell any more of them. My experiences are somewhat different. About 95% of the time, when I visit most "high-tech" stores like Staples, Future Shop (similar to "Best Buy") or CompuSmart (a Canadian computer-store chain), I'm "just looking". Somehow, regardless of whether the salesperson is commissioned or not, he/she will approach me and ask to help me. That's all well and good. But somehow, for those 5% of my visits when I'm actually shopping for something and I need a salesperson to answer a question or simply get the product out of a display case, there's never a salesperson in sight. It seems I must give off the wrong aura.

These small discrepancies aside, I'm enjoying Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel as much as I have enjoyed nearly all of Scott's efforts. If you haven't picked up Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel yet, you should do so immediately. It may not be the weasel thing to do (stealing a co-worker's copy would be more in character), but it's one of the best investment moves you're likely to make this year.

Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel (ISBN: 0-06-051805-7) is published by Harper Business. Oh, and by the way, Scott, I think it would be only fair if you sent me a buck or two for every time I've managed to weasel in the title Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel to this column about Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel. (I've got to add this: since I knew I was going to be mentioning the title several times (Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel), I copied it to my clipboard. Then I simply pasted it in wherever I wanted it. Two pastings ago, when I was trying to weasel some money out of Scott, it seemed even my computer was helping - it pasted it in twice.)

And for a postscript to a postscript, some columns really write themselves. This one took less than two hours to write, although I also did some "research" for this one, I actually am reading Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel.

Copyright © 2003 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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