Dilbert doesn’t buy Warren Buffett’s advice to find your passion and get a job that matches.
And Buffett likes Dilbert but not the strip’s creator’s ideas about passion.
Buffett’s endorsement of workplace passion was the target of Scott Adams’ “Dilbert” comic strip last week. In the strip, Carol, the receptionist in the office where Dilbert works, remarks:
“Warren Buffett says my career will be better if I show passion for my job. I’ll have to fake the passion because everything I do in this job is mindless and boring.”
Then she fakes it: “Woo-hoo! I forwarded an email!”
The strip is no off-hand joke by Adams.
He told The World-Herald that Buffett’s recommendation of passion as a career motivator is baloney, a formula for near-certain failure that badly misleads people. Adams has written about his views on passion online and in a book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.”
“It turns out that there’s no correlation between passion and success,” Adams said, adding that he has tried lots of business ideas without being passionate about them. “I found that my passion followed success. If I did something that was going to make me rich, I got really excited about it. In my case, I looked for the things that would make a success.”
Buffett often repeats his pro-passion advice, saying that he loves his work as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
“In my case, the passion was ignited when I was about 7 or 8,” Buffett told The World-Herald. “I would go down to my dad’s office in the Omaha National Bank building on Saturdays and he would take me to lunch. But I would get there early and read the books on investing that he had at the office.
“When I finished all of these, I started reading the books on investing that they had at the Omaha Public Library. Well before we moved to Washington when I was 12, I’d read every book on the subject that they had at the library, some of them more than once. So I think it’s fair to say that the passion developed well before any success.”
But Adams maintains that passion comes from a part of the brain that people can’t really control, and if you’re starting a business or taking a new job, “the last thing you want to do is become passionate. It’s almost the opposite of what you want to do.”
He said he learned from a banker years ago not to loan money to a person who is passionate about starting a business.
“You’re in business for the wrong reasons, and if things start turning unhappy, you’re going to bail,” Adams said, or start making irrational decisions.”
“The reason that you hear passion is so important is because when you interview important people, they don’t have anything politically appropriate to say except that,” Adams said. You can’t brag about your intellect or the amazing things you did, and you can’t just admit that you grew up with money and got lucky.
“So passion is the only thing you say. It sounds democratic, like something everybody could do,” he said.
People have argued with him that TV shows like “American Idol” illustrate the passion advantage because the winners are always passionate performers.
Adams said the show actually proves the opposite: Thousands of passionate people try out for the show, and only a tiny percentage even make the first cut. For them, “passion is the worst idea in the world,” Adams said.
He also disagreed with Buffett’s contention that having passion for a job gives you an advantage because you work harder than someone who is dispassionate. “I would say that passion is the best indicator of failure.”
Buffett says otherwise.
“Having passion for something is far from an automatic guarantee of success, but I think it helps,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine very many athletes succeeding without a passion for their sport, though obviously many who are equally passionate fall on their face (count me among those).
“I tell the college students who visit Omaha to try to find the job that they’d take if they didn’t need a job (easier said than done but still the right goal). They may not enjoy wild success but they will certainly enjoy life more than if they go to a job they find uninteresting. And, on balance, I believe they will enjoy more success.”
Buffett and Adams said they are fans of each other.
Said Adams: “What he has is an incredibly, perfectly wired brain for the type of work he does,” Adams said, noting that Buffett has said “he is lucky based on the sense that he was born into the time and place he was and he chose to do something that he liked to do and it worked out.”
Said Buffett: “I’m a huge fan of Dilbert and love the business lessons that he imparts. I hope some of our managers incorporate these as well. Bureaucracy is like cancer.
“Despite what Mr. Adams says, I retain a slight suspicion that he has a passion for delivering important messages in a highly entertaining manner. And I’d be surprised if this passion didn’t predate his success.”
More sell-offs from P&G
Berkshire is buying Procter & Gamble Co.’s Duracell division, and now the Cincinnati-based company is selling other brands.
Unilever, the European brand company, is purchasing P&G’s Camay and Zest soap brands for an undisclosed amount, including a soap manufacturing facility in Mexico. Procter & Gamble said its strategy is to remove 90 to 100 of its lesser-known brands over the next two years and focus on its 90 or so biggest names, like Tide and Pampers.
The seeds of a quote
A Buffett quotation that appears occasionally may have words he used, but the idea isn’t original.
The quote: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Here’s an earlier quote by Nelson Henderson, a farmer in the Swan River region of Manitoba, Canada, in the late 1800s: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
Then there’s a Greek proverb, older than Buffett: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
And the Bible, namely Deuteronomy, Chapter 6:
“When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land which he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that he would give you a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, with houses full of goods of all sorts that you did not garner, with cisterns that you did not dig, with vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant; and when, therefore, you eat and are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that house of slavery.”
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns the Omaha World-Herald Co.