You’ve seen the comic strips in your Sunday paper. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in the cubicle life, you’re sure to have seen a few of them clipped and tacked to corkboards.
We’re talking about Dilbert, the hapless tech-nerd forever stymied by the bureaucratic and often counterintuitive corporate environment in which he works.
But while Dilbert has become funny-paper staple and perhaps even a household name, it’s the cartoonist, Scott Adams, who intrigues and inspires.
The Rise of Scott Adams (and Dilbert)
While employed by Crocker National Bank, Adams jumped at an opportunity for management. And not necessarily because the position excited him, either. Instead, as he says in the anthology Dilbert 2.0 (2008), Adams joined management to get away from the guns – he was held-up twice in his few short months as a teller.
Who knows how differently things might’ve gone for Dilbert if Adams had remained a teller? That’s a good question.
After gaining experience in several positions within the corporation, Adams earned his MBA from University of California-Berkeley in 1986 and moved to Pacific Bell. And that’s when he began doodling his first Dilbert cartoons.
But there were three years of rejections before Dilbert was first published. But the comic strip took off. By 1994, Dilbert was being run in over 400 newspapers, and Adams was rising early every morning, hours before work, to create the strips. And it paid off. A year later, Adams was able to devote himself fulltime to Dilbert as a professional cartoonist.
Today, some experts estimate Adams net worth at $75 million.
Obviously, there’s a lesson to be learned here, something to be said about perseverance, about making the most of less-than-ideal situations. But that doesn’t tell us why Adams was so successful with Dilbert.
Why Dilbert Is So Popular
What makes Dilbert so great? He’s relatable. Like many of us, Dilbert’s life seems to revolve a little too much around his career. And his isn’t the most pleasurable of work environments. Even in jobs we love, we tend to accentuate the less positive experiences, and Adams has captured many of those experiences into memorable characters:
- Pointy-Haired Boss – the know-nothing manager who presumably reached their position through seniority alone.
- Asok – the overworked, under-compensated intern with more talent than the senior employees.
- Wally – the senior engineer who spends all his time and energy gaming the system to avoid any real work.
See for yourself. Check out Scott Adams’s personal favorite Dilbert comic strips.
How Adams Hacks Creativity
How does he do it? Four decades of creating a new strip every day, that takes more than just discipline. It takes an awesome command of creativity. As Adams puts it: “My value is based on my best ideas in any given day, not the number of hours I work.”
And a few years ago, Adams shared his secret for harnessing his creativity.
To pave the way for inspiration, he begins every day – even Christmas morning – in precisely the same way. For Adams, that means getting out of bed and into his office every morning by 500 am, drinking coffee and eating a protein bar.
To fuel his creativity, he scours the news. But he avoids politics. Instead, Adams looks for “patterns in life,” finding interesting parallels between seemingly unrelated events.
Consider this quote from Adams: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” (Actually, no one is 100% sure who first said that, but most people agree it was Adams). Regardless…
By the time mid-morning rolls around, Adams will often have created two new comic strips, written a blog post, and engaged his Twitter following with several new ideas. After that, he’s done for the day. The creativity has come and gone. He doesn’t push it.
How to Find Your Own Success
You might think Adams was blessed with a passion he could turn into cash. But, according to him, that wasn’t the case. Dilbert, he admits, was just one of the many get-rich-quick schemes he’d given a chance.
He’s had plenty of failures – doomed startups, restaurants that spiraled downward, and inventions that no one wanted or needed.
The best route to success, says Adams, is identifying your skill and then implementing a process for doing it that will increase your odds of “getting lucky.” He claims luck has always been central to his success but believes you can adopt practices that make you lucky with your skillset.
Doesn’t sound like the most straightforward advice, but, then again, Adams warns against taking advice from successful people as no two situations are the same. In other words, what worked for Bill Gates probably isn’t going to work for the rest of us.
What about you? Are you a fan of the Dilbert comic strips? Are you working to harness your own creativity and achieve your own success?
Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.