August 23, 2007


Positive Attitude: A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.

      Now with all the collected strips in full, glorious (inglorious?) color, Dilbert has gone beyond cult status, beyond worldwide sales and acclaim, beyond snippets of targeted sarcasm, into actual philosophical musings. True, Scott Adams has offered these before in his book introductions, but they have usually been about such subjects as being anti-stupidity rather than anti-management (leaving it to readers to figure out what the difference is, if any). In this 29th collection, though, Adams actually opens by making a point that carries through the entire 128-page book: optimism in the workplace is largely indistinguishable from insanity. That is, an insane person keeps doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result (something Dilbert once explained to the Pointy Haired Boss when the PHB couldn’t get a mouse click on the Internet to do anything…until, many tries later, it did). An optimist repeatedly does exactly the same thing, hoping for a better result next time, without realizing what he or she is doing. This raises the interesting question of whether the insane person is less insane than the optimist, or only smarter.

      In any case, after his pithy introduction (that’s pithy), Adams illustrates the “optimistic insanity” idea repeatedly. There’s the departing worker who tells the PHB that she is leaving because “I was spending way too much time thinking about creative ways to kill you,” then optimistically suggests the PHB check to see whether she has cleared out her desk. There’s Wally, commenting on the company CEO receiving a $400,000,000 bonus and asking for the same, being told the CEO is worth a million times more than he is – then optimistically asking if he can have $400. There’s Dogbert publishing a best-selling book that’s “part fake autobiography and part plagiarism,” being invited to appear on “Oprah,” and asking Dilbert to go instead – for which Dilbert optimistically thanks him before being repeatedly punched on camera. There’s Dilbert, making a presentation far too complex for the CEO to understand, deciding optimistically that “I will feed you some lies that point you in the right direction.” There’s the minor Job Hopper character, who sports huge rabbit ears, quitting on his first day and optimistically saying, “I’m going someplace where my coworkers will never waste my time!!!”

      But Adams doesn’t merely skewer workplace optimism. He skewers plants. Turns out that the head of human resources is “the ficus tree that used to be in the lobby,” and a new worker named Phil O’Dendron is “a potted plant [that] has three stories that he repeats in an infinite loop.” As usual, there’s a cast of irregulars here, such as the Society of Insane Chicks, Stinky Pete, Betty the Bulldozer, the “technology left-behind,” and the Nemesis: “The nemesis function used to be handled informally. Now it’s a profession, kind of like project management.” There’s also the usual cast of regulars: Dilbert, Dogbert, Wally, the PHB, Asok the intern, Alice (“if you aren’t willing to punch a coworker for a chair, you don’t belong in this business”), and the world’s smartest garbage man. There are the expected props (the huge spoon of Phil, ruler of Heck) and the unexpected ones (the plunger of blame). Adams has come through a series of difficult personal problems – affecting his ability to talk and to draw – with his sense of humor intact and even edgier than before. The result is a book that not only looks good but also is “prettier than a skunk sandwich and cooler than a hobo’s mittens.” No, wait…that’s how Wally, during a stint in Marketing, describes the company’s product…

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