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  Dilbert's boss

;^)    In Praise of Dilbert's Boss

by Manuel Gordon

Scott Adams has gone and done it again. Dilbert's boss doesn't know how to use a mouse, Dilbert's boss doesn't know how to reboot. Dilbert's boss doesn't know when he is being insulted. Dilbert's boss is clueless.

But wait a minute. Who else but the Clueless would hire us?

I don't think that Dilbert's boss has been given his due. Cluelessness is the very life force of the computer industry.

Most software development projects fail: they're cancelled, they come in too late, they come in way over budget. Most custom software doesn't do what the customer wanted. Most shrink-wrapped software products sink without a trace. If you work in this field, you know all this in your gut; you don't need any references to fat books on software engineering.

Software is the success story of the last two decades. But individual software projects usually fail. That's why Cluelessness is crucial. The Clueless are blissfully shielded from reality. It takes Cluelessness to write dazzling descriptions of future bliss ("integrating heterogeneous information architectures into a pipelined on-demand virtual superhighway"). Dilbert can't write like that. Neither can you. You know too much.

We need the supremely confident Clueless to raise the funds, whether from private capital, from government largesse, or from a small amount of the former disguising a large amount of the latter. We need Dilbert's boss, and Dilbert's boss's boss, to write the glorious business plans, the "technical" white papers, the marketing bumf, etc.

Similarly, it takes Cluelessness with the human face both to "mobilize the troops" and to sell the product. Cluelessness works so much better than Mendacity, because the Clueless can look you straight in the eye, speak utter nonsense, and not even notice.

Consider the Alternatives

Start with Dilbert himself. Clearsighted Dilbert is a useful drudge, but he won't go far. Dilbert lacks the Vision Thing. Dilbert probably looked at his first IBM PC, looked at its two floppy disk drives, and asked, "Who will do the backups?" If Dilbert worked on Windows 95, he would have said, "We can't ship this! It's still full of bugs! And besides, the manuals aren't ready!"

Next, there is Cynicism and Sloth (Wally). Would you want to work for Wally? Could you imagine Wally getting a project team together, let alone starting up a small software development company? Wally created the Y2K problem, and now he's getting $US100,000 a year to clean it up.

Then there is Ruthless Exploitation (Dogbert and Catbert). There is a lot of room for Ruthless Exploitation in the software industry, but it doesn't have the central, mobilizing, heroic role that Cluelessness has. Have you noticed that Dogbert is almost always an independent consultant?

And then there is Hard Work (Alice). Alice works very hard indeed, and she is much more ambitious that Dilbert (check out her hairdo), but she reminds me of Boxer the workhorse in Orwell's Animal Farm. Boxer's motto was "I will work harder." Remember where Boxer ended up? Think of where glue comes from.

And of course, there is Self-pitying Anger (Tina). Tina is a technical writer: I rest my case.

Hurrah for Dilbert's Boss!

This article originally appeared in Connections, the newsletter of the STC Montreal chapter, and in Intercom, the magazine of the Society for Technical Communication.

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Last updated:
August 26, 2002

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