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Memes: Do Bad Barrels make Bad Apples?

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When I saw the cartoon above it reminded me of this idea of “Bad Barrels”.  The prevailing idea is that there are bad apples – a few people in an organization that bring disrepute on an organization but that there is essentially nothing wrong with the organization.

The idea about “Bad Barrels” is that there are organizations and organizational cultures that turn good people bad.  (Read about Memes here and below)

Look at the cartoon above.  How much is Wally now an agent (agent in the strong sense) of the corporate culture in which he, Dilbert and the rest of the gang work?  That is, Wally is now perpetuating (spreading, transmitting, enforcing) an idea of a particular work environment.  (Wally becomes a “host” in the meme model)

The question is this.  If Wally were ever promoted to a position of power in an organization would he “right the wrongs” of the organization he works for as depicted in the strip or would he take on these values and treat people in the same way that he is treated by his boss and now hates?

Will “the barrel” (the environment in which Wally works) change Wally into the very evil that he hates?

I know it’s a comic strip.  But, I have seen it for decades in a lot of organizations.  At some point an “agent” (or “host” in the meme model) in the organization says something like, “You don’t know how things work around here“.  Or, “You are naive.  This is how we do things around here“.  Of course those “things” are the evils that you are asked to participate in, contribute to, and pass on to the new people who have yet to be initiated into “the way we do things here” – the “barrel” of the corporate culture and zeitgeist.

An Opportunity to Reveal Character

The really really great thing about all this is that it provides a person to make a choice based on character.  These challenging opportunities provide a very visible (and sometimes very public) proclamation of a person’s character as demonstrated as opposed to what someone says of their values.

Think of people like Sherron Watkins of Enron.  How many people said to her, “Sherron, this is how we do things here.  You are naive.”  To which she essentially said, “No, this is not the way it should be and it will not be.”

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Written by frrl

April 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Should anyone take advice from Scott Adams and Dilbert?

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I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship? – How to Get a Real Education by Scott Adams

On April 9’th 2011 there was an article in the Wall Street Journal by Scott Adams.  As everyone should know, Scott Adams is the cartoonist that created the Dilbert comic strip.

My gripe with Scott Adams is that I think he has done more to perpetuate corporate dysfunction than anyone else in popular media.  I am not alone in this.  I stumbled on a blog entry from Mark Vogt – Why I Hate Dilbert.  In part…

That’s what I HATE about it, because what I’ve seen over the years (yes, literally YEARS) is that all of the avid/devoted Dilbert follows first IDENTIFY with Dilbert’s frustration over all the myriad problems/weaknesses with the modern business world, then – this is the source of my hatred – they MIMIC his INACTION.

Each time I find myself walking past a cubicle or office (even executives’ offices) with yellowed, ragged-eared Dilbert cartoons stapled meticulously along the walls in artistic, thoughtful patterns, I mentally bookmark that person, then begin observing their behavior in meetings, on projects, in emails or even in the cafeteria….

Sure enough, a most startling & troubling pattern emerges: these people – from the lowest depths to the uppermost ranks in the company – all too often display in real life the very helpless, powerless, wimpy Dilbert behavior they “identify” with in their beloved cartoon.

The bottom line is that Dilbert, even though he realizes he works for a dysfunctional company, is utterly powerless to do anything about it.  Of course Dilbert has no organizational power to change anything – he is a cubicle-dweller at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy.

But the real problem is that Dilbert can’t extricate himself from his situation.  Extricating himself from his situation would mean quitting his job.  And of course that can’t happen or the comic strip would end.  So, for obvious comic strip reasons Dilbert does not leave his job.  But far beyond the seriousness of comic strips, as the quote above points out, many people mimic Dilbert’s helplessness.  And thus. effectively destroy their careers.

Now Scott Adams wants to advise you on Entrepreneurship

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Written by frrl

April 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm

In Corporate America Powerlessness Corrupts

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They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

But what about powerlessness?   According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in an article in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review, powerlessness can corrupt as well – but in a different sort of way.

In some large corporations, strategic plans are done by a few people at the top and then cascaded down to the rest of the organization.   These neat tidy plans, generated by a few, are passed on to the masses who get stuck with the not so tidy, not so pleasant, and messy job of execution.

Those who get hit hardest are those in the middle – middle managers.  Squeezed by scarcity of resources, hemmed in by bureaucracy, and treated as unimportant (“in the middle” – not executives), Kanter observes that, under some circumstances, these folks –  “get even”. 

They “get even” because, caught in the middle, they are powerless.

How Managers “get even” in the face of powerlessness

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Written by frrl

August 2, 2010 at 6:18 am

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Outing Scott Adams – the creator of the Dilbert Comic Strip

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dilbert_instoryThe usual corporate scenario

In the northwest suburbs of Chicago is the corporate headquarters of a particular global company.  This company occupies two towers of about 20 floors each.  In each tower is a bank of elevators.  At the opposite side of each elevator bank is an area where there is a coffee maker, refrigerator, microwave oven, dishes, utensils, and cabinets – everything that makes life livable in the workplace.  There is also a bulliten board in these areas.

The Ritual

There is sort of a ritual at this company.  It happens once every month or so.  The ritual is performed by the Human Resource Department.  At the appointed time, a human resources staff member makes a “sweep”.  The “sweep” is to go to each floor in each tower – that’s 20 floors in 2 towers in 2 areas – to check and pull down any Dilbert cartoons that the employees post on the bullien boards.  That’s 20×2×2, or 80 bulletin board that need to be swept of Dilbert comic strips.

So who is Dilbert ?

Dilbert is a bespectacled buckethead with a perpetually upturned tie and a pocket-protector worn as a coat of arms. He slaves as an engineer in some vast corporate cubicle hive, dodging lethal directives from dunderheaded managers. His creator, Scott Adams, writes from personal experience: Adams spent 17 years in a cubicle himself, first at Crocker Bank and later at Pacific Bell.

Who is Scott Adams ?

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Written by frrl

February 24, 2009 at 6:30 am

Interviews with Scott Adams

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Written by frrl

February 19, 2009 at 4:43 am

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