Friday, March 19, 2010

Scott Adams--Dilbert

Scott Adams is best known for his Dilbert comic strips depicting the idiocy of corporate management in the bureaucratic world of big organizations. His cartoons are published in over 60 countries worldwide and syndicated in more than 2000 newspapers. For years Adams has created a cartoon a day, and more recently, about nine a week to keep up with the demand.

For a guy who graduated valedictorian and later earned an MBA from the University of California at Berkley, you might think that coming up with great ideas everyday would be a pretty tough assignment. I mean the smart ones are usually, well, smart, but not all that creative. At least not the ones I know. The creative ones usually join the band and cut their core classes to attend rock concerts or to crash parties. They join acting troupes and take art classes, not business calculus and COBOL.

So when things got boring at the bank where Adams worked, you might think he would daydream about stock derivatives or something. Instead, he did what a lot of us would do. He doodled. His doodling evolved into vague cartoons and then solid characters that resembled in a most unflattering way, his boss and co-workers. In other words, while most of us might sit around those crazy meetings thinking about the growing crack in our bedroom ceiling, Adams dreamed of launching a cartoon career. While his associates talked about shrinking the deficit and padding their pockets, Adams drew characters poking fun at his corporate partners. In 1988 he sold his work to United Feature Syndicate, who published Dilbert in about 50 papers the following year.

So what sets Adams apart from other cartoonists beside his incisive, and almost universally appealing humor? Adams suffers from focal dystonia, a debilitating muscle and nerve condition that causes his hand to cramp up and tremor and spasm so severely that he cannot draw. For years he struggled with this condition, and even tried to draw his cartoons left-handed. This did not work. When his left hand began to draw, his right hand would begin to convulse and spasm. If this were not enough, he later developed spasmodic dysphonia, a vocal condition that rendered him unable to speak for three years. This "incurable" condition was eventually cured through surgery to rewire nerve connections to the cords.

Through it all, Adams prevailed. Through pain and perseverance, he continued to produce what some have called the most honest and revealing insight into organizational tomfoolery ever written. And he continues to pursue his dream today using computer technology and mind-over-matter tactics to trick his brain into acting "normal." He could have quit but he kept going, and a lot of people worldwide are sure glad he did.

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