Office Politics


Scott Adams
Scott Adams

Scott Adams is the creator of the award-winning comic strip Dilbert, which satirizes American corporate culture. More recently, he's gained a following for his musings about the "unstoppable clown car that is Donald Trump." In those blog posts, Adams analyzes what he sees as the GOP frontrunner's highly effective persuasion methods. Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller chatted with the cartoonist in October.

Q: What's your fascination with Donald Trump?

A: My special fascination is his ability to persuade. I have a background in hypnosis, and I see in Trump a persuasion technique that is probably invisible to the public.

Q: Are there principles that you think are best applied to the way governments operate?

A: My preferred model is something like business. What does business do all the time? They test things small that make sense. We could do that. The states can test just about anything, and then the federal government could look at the results. I would love to see a candidate who said, "I don't have an opinion. I'm gonna go with the majority on social issues…and if it's economics or world stuff and I can test it, I will!"

Q: You've written that "the paradox of capitalism is that adding a bunch of bad-sounding ideas together creates something incredible." What led you to that conclusion?

A: The amazing thing about the economy is that most people are failing most of the time. Nine out of 10 new businesses fail. But while they're failing, there are people working for them. They're buying things from vendors. Even the things that are succeeding are only succeeding until they don't, right? So everything is a failure in progress. The genius of capitalism is that it not just survives that failure but is built upon it. All that activity creates economic goodness for everybody.

Q: People might be surprised to hear your generally positive feelings toward capitalism. Dilbert kind of reads like an indictment of it forcing everyone into a literal box in the shape of a cubicle.

A: Capitalism falls into that category of things that are terribly flawed but nobody has a better idea yet. If you're an individual within capitalism, you could have a terrible life. Or you could have a wonderful life if you're lucky and you do the right stuff. So capitalism is a mixed bag and I write about some people who are not having the best of it.

Q: Can you talk about the idea of "failing toward success"?

A: The idea is that if you pick your projects carefully, even in failure you're going to increase your odds for something good happening later. I make the distinction between the goal-oriented view of life, where you say, "This is the one thing I want," and you focus on that to the exclusion of other things. But sometimes if you don't hit that goal, you're not really in a better position for some other thing. So I pick projects where, when I fail, I've learned something, I've networked, there's something about the situation that puts me in a better position.

Q: You were one of the first cartoonists to put his email address on the actual comic strips.

A: Dilbert was not terribly successful in those days. Once I put my email address in the strip, people wrote in and said, "We like it when Dilbert is in the office. We don't like it when he's at home." It was a pretty clear message, so I made that change, and it was probably the biggest change that made Dilbert successful. Exactly as the business books say it should happen—I listened to the customers and changed the product.