Dilbert creator stays in touch with "the cube"

We know him best as the creator of Dilbert - but did you know that Scott Adams is also a certified hypnotist who uses his training to lure readers into buying his books? Well, maybe that's not strictly true. 'Before I decided what my career was going to be I thought I might want to be a hypnotist, so I took a class,' Adams says, noting that while it wasn't really much of a career move, 'it's amazingly useful stuff. I even use it in the cartoon strip.'

We know him best as the creator of Dilbert - but did you know that Scott Adams is also a certified hypnotist who uses his training to lure readers into buying his books?

Well, maybe that's not strictly true.

"Before I decided what my career was going to be I thought I might want to be a hypnotist, so I took a class." Adams says while it came in handy when dating, it wasn't really much of a career move.

"But it's amazingly useful stuff. I even use it in the cartoon strip."

Adams uses the example of asking someone to visualise walking in a forest.

"It would be a mistake to say: 'There's a tree by your left and it's an oak tree'."

Adams says that as soon as you are told there is a tree to your left, you immediately picture the tree you want. "When you said 'it's an oak tree', they realised you don't know what's in their head and you lose them." Applying that to the strip, which he draws every day of the week all year around, Adams says he gives as few clues as possible to get readers to where he wants them to go.

"If you look at Dilbert, you'll see he has no last name, you can't tell what company he works for, you don't know what specific products he's making."

Adams says the biggest comment he gets is from people asking if he secretly works at their company. By not excluding their company, readers can more easily identify with the strip, Adams says, and not filling in the background also naturally saves him a lot of time.

Having readers identify with the characters seems to be working. Adams was able to give up working at Pacific Bell in 1995 to devote himself to Dilbert full-time and today 1200 newspapers worldwide carry the Dilbert strip. But Adams doesn't feel isolated from his roots, despite not working for a faceless corporation any more.

"I get several hundred emails a day from people who are still in the cube." Adams endeavours to read each one, and says that he can glean new ideas from around 1%, which still gives him a huge resource to draw on.

Sadly, he's recently discovered that isn't enough. "I realised that I had unintentionally recreated a cubicle in my home office. I'm kind of in the middle of a U-shaped arrangement of computers and tables and stuff." Adams suggests this may be a DNA problem. "There's some kind of genetic programming at work, going back to caveman days."

Genetics could also help to explain how your boss got his or her job, he says.

"It could be that everyone is gravitating toward a Dilbert character. I wonder if you start to look like the character you start to identify with?" And just as owners tend to look like their pets, it could be possible that all bosses tend to gravitate toward the same shape.

Being trapped has to be one of the great themes of Dilbert — trapped in a small cube, surrounded by idiots, working for a fool. The cube as a metaphor for life, perhaps?

But Adams says if you look too deeply you've missed the point. Dilbert, it seems, is just a slice of life, but one that an astonishing amount of people can relate to, one way or another. So much so that an animated TV series is planned to go with the burgeoning publishing empire. Adams' latest book, The Joy of Work, which is now available in New Zealand, is a guide to making the workplace more fun. Dogbert's favourite targets, "co-workers" and in-duh-viduals, are well represented, along with a number of ways to keep them from driving you insane.

You don't even need to be in IT to laugh along with Dilbert. Adams says that very few of the strips are IT focused, despite the rich source of humour. "Dilbert usually sits at a PC, so many people mistake that for the subject of the strip. Actually, only a handful are ever about computers themselves."

Of course, the only question left to ask the creator of Dilbert is what does he pin to his cubicle walls if he can't pin up Dilbert strips?

"Sadly, I've got calendars and planners and things like that. There's even a flow chart. It's all boring, really."

Dilbert can be found at The Dilbert Zone (www.dilbert.com). Readers can check their stocks against the Dilbert Financial Pages, subscribe to an occasional newsletter from Adams or sign up as part of Dogbert's New Ruling Class.

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