Daring to Be Dilbert

Let’s face it, how many of us have at least one Dilbert cartoon taped to our computer screen? Part philosopher, part social commentator, Scott Adams is more than a cartoonist. His insights into management strategies, cubicle lifestyle, and staff antics are as poignant as they are funny. No wonder Dilbert graces more than 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries in 19 languages. In fact, The Washington Post has even saved a place for Dilbert in the most appropriate spot in the newspaper: the business section. Who else could distill the collective corporate directives we all encounter with such playful accuracy in a trio of cartoon cells. 

With a deadpan expression, Adams shared the ups and downs of his amazing career, from his start at age 11 trying to enroll in "The Art School for Young People" to signing on the dotted line to syndicate his cartoon to millions of readers who just can’t get enough of his wily wit. And no doubt, those challenging times were the ones that provided the real gems for his art. During his years working in corporate America, he was one of those who "arrived early, worked late and carried around a piece of paper like I had a purpose." As his career as a cartoonist was just getting started, he kept his day job in corporate America, and used his real-time experiences as the backdrop for his sassy celluloid characters and office absurdity. When he used a direct quote from a memo from the VP of Engineering in one of his early cartoons, he never thought that it would come back to haunt him. But sure enough, a colleague found the cartoon so "darn amusing" that he copied the cartoon for everyone who was attending the upcoming VP of Engineering’s staff meeting. It didn’t take long to connect the dots and the VP of Engineering was ready to fire Adams. Luckily, his boss’ boss came to the rescue with a failsafe plan: "We can’t fire him for his sense of humor, but we can find hideous projects for him to do until he quits." For Adams, those projects fit neatly into two categories: those that were impossible to do, and those that were possible to do but really didn’t need to be done anyway. 

Looking back, Adams said he credits watching the tail end of a TV show on "How to Become a Cartoonist" for renewing his passion for drawing cartoons. When he wrote to the host of the show for more information about cartooning, Adams said he received a letter from host Jack Cassidy, who offered some advice, including the fact that he’d get lots of rejections, but that he shouldn’t give up. After nearly a year of rejections, Adams put his Sharpie down and decided to give up drawing cartoons until he received a followup letter from Cassidy making sure Adams hadn’t given up on his dream. That letter provided the push Adams needed to get back on track, and so they say, the rest is history.

OK, so not every one of his cartoons actually made it into print, and he shared some of the best with the SLA audience, especially those that somehow managed to "accidentally offend" readers along the way, from unicorn lovers to research scientists to members of the Dork family to Uncle Milton Industries, Inc.’s. ant farm. Adams even explained why one of his Dilbert characters was romancing a librarian. Why? "Because librarians are hot!"

So whether the day unfolds with a "diabolical plan for downsizing" or Wally doing his best to make it into the bottom 10 percent in personnel ratings, let’s thank Adams for brightening our way up–and down–the corporate ladder.

Barbara Brynko
Editor in Chief
Information Today

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