Chapter 5. Carbon Paper? Really?!

There is no substitute for talent. Industry and all its virtues are of no avail.

Aldous Huxley

Peter Drucker. Michael Porter. Jim Collins. Malcolm Gladwell. Dilbert. Dilbert? Why would we add to such illustrious company Scott Adams's comic creation, the hapless, cube-dwelling techie who suffers dysfunctional coworkers, an evil feline Human Resources Director, and an inept boss? Like these gurus of management thinking, Dilbert is able to distill complex issues into simple truths through stories. Case in point is a memorable 1993 comic strip where Dilbert's boss tells his employees that though for years he had been saying that employees are his company's most valuable asset, "It turns out I was wrong." He continues, "Money is our most valuable asset. Employees are ninth." The real punch line? Carbon paper came in eighth.[46]

Funny? Yes. Sad? Yes—because it speaks to how valuing talent is at risk of becoming a cliché. It is true that for years employers everywhere have been touting their people as their "most valuable asset," but how many have meant it? More to the point, how many have acted accordingly? In fact, the claim has been repeated so often in some cases as to render it meaningless to employees who know better and respond with smirks rather than smiles to a declaration they know to be baseless. But all hope is not lost.

An interesting—and predictable—shift in management thinking took place around the time Dilbert's boss was having his revelatory ...

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