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Dilbert's dad: Weaseling his way to success

Scott AdamsThe reason the comic strip Dilbert is funny in 65 countries and 19 languages is that the woes of the beleaguered worker are international. Scott Adams, former computer software company employee and the creator of Dilbert, takes fresh and timely aim at the current rash of double-dealing CEOs and slippery corporate managers in his new book "Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel."

Here he tells Bankrate.com how to manage a workplace weasel when he's sitting in the next cubicle. And he discusses his own uncannily Dilbert-like investment experience.

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Bankrate: What exactly is a weasel?

Adams: A weasel is anyone who is trying to get away with anything. And the weasel zone is that gray area between things that are perfectly ethical and those things that might actually put you in jail.

Bankrate: Are there really more CEO weasels than there used to be?

Adams: While crime has always paid a little bit, it has never paid as well as it does now. Not only does it pay well, but weasel CEOs get stock options, a dental plan and five weeks of vacation. It's no surprise that a lot of people are going into the field.

Bankrate: It does seem like weasels are ubiquitous. Do we just have to learn to live with them?

Adams: You don't want to get rid of weasels because the economy would collapse. I mean, think about it. If companies were required to tell you which ones really had the lowest prices and not confuse you, all but a few would go out of business -- a dislocation of the economy. Nothing good can come from that.

Bankrate: What's worse, having weasel co-workers or a weasel boss?

Adams: You can defend yourself if your co-workers are weasels. For example, I recommend inoculating your boss. Ten minutes after the new guy comes in, pull the boss aside and say, "You know, I think the new guy is a pathological liar." That's because sooner or later the new guy is going to be talking trash about you to your boss and the nature of the boss is that the first thing he hears is going to be imprinted there for the rest of his life.

Bankrate: So having a weasel boss is worse?

Adams: Absolutely. A weasel boss has that unique ability to not only cause you to fail, but then blame you for it later. The motto of the weasel boss is "Better you than me." If weasels had a dance, it would look exactly like you and your boss having a discussion about your objectives. Your boss wants to get as much work out of you as possible while maintaining a plausible reason for denying you a healthy and life-affirming raise. In contrast to that, you want objectives that could be accomplished by a squirrel in a coma.

Bankrate: So how do you outsmart a weasel boss?

Adams: Exaggerate your accomplishments. Claim as an accomplishment every breath, sentence, phone call, casual conversation and bodily function you experience. No one loves you as much as you love yourself and there's no penalty for bragging. You might even get a raise for it if you word it right.

Bankrate: And the lesson to be learned here is ...

Adams: To err is human; to cover it up is weasel.

Bankrate: What about your personal experience with big business? We understand you made a couple of unfortunate investments.

Adams: That's an understatement. It's true. I invested in Enron, WorldCom and at various times RiteAid and Tyco. I got them all. Every one. And that's just the ones that are outright evil. Forget about the fact that I owned Cisco in '65. And I bought all those thanks to professional advice. Now I do my own investing in index funds. That's where I am now.

Bankrate: Have you fired all the advisers and taken on managing your own investments?

Adams: You don't really have to fire investment advisers when the money disappears. It is a self-liquidating relationship. The beauty of it is that you never have to make that phone call that says, "Give me back my money" because it is already gone.

Bankrate: So index funds. Is that it? Index funds aren't likely to grow this into an Enron-size fortune. Is writing more books and continuing to work what is going to build your fortune?

Adams: Pretty much. I've been investing since 1979 or '80, and during that time I've managed to amass losses. I think my total worldwide investment success is negative at this point. And bear in mind, I followed all the rules. I didn't do any crazy stuff.

Bankrate: None of those tax shelters?

Adams: No. I had a diversified portfolio: 70 percent stocks, 30 percent bonds. And I did all the stuff you are supposed to do out of the book. What I didn't count on was that so many of those companies looked good on paper because they were frauds. I believed for a long time that professional money managers at least had access to information that I didn't have. And therefore whether they were smart -- or smarter than I was -- didn't really matter. They had better information and that alone was probably worth something. But then you find out that those weasels have been out-weaseled by the CEOs. The CEOs were just cooking the books -- making up the numbers. No matter how smart my weasel was, he was no competition for the Uberweasel.

Jennie L. Phipps is freelance writer based in Michigan.

-- Posted: Nov. 18, 2002




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