I’ve often commented that the cartoon strip Dilbert, by Scott Adams, is closer to a documentary than it is to a cartoon. Not just about the quagmire of corporate life: Dilbert applies equally to the sodden bureaucracy of government. And here are some strips to prove my hypothesis, at least on the local level.
I culled these strips from around the web, from many, many sites, but the copyright and credit all belongs to Scott Adams. I hope he won’t mind me using his work as an example of how things work in Collingwood. It’s very, very instructive, after all. And true…
For this expository, I’ve chosen strips about lawyers, consultants and management. The former two reflect how our Council depends on these two species of barnacles to tell them how and what to think. The Block has opted to abdicate its responsibilities onto the shoulders of outsiders and let them do the work. But clearly, as the strips show, this is not unique to Collingwood. It is endemic in every poorly-run, top-heavy, bureaucratic corporation. See below if you agree…
Here, for example, is how town administration might have approached one of its chequebook lawyers to re-concoct the Shared Services Agreement with Collus PowerStream:
I’m pretty sure that’s why a simple 30-minute task is still not completed after two years. And this is how one of those lawyers might have reacted to the original Collus share sale agreement:
Then the lawyers work on it, busy little minions gleefully tabulating the hours they get paid, working to the pleasant musical hum of the cash register. And when they’re done, the administration dumps the result on staff.
Imagine, say, Collus staff being presented with the administration’s revised concoction about the share sale, a frightening dog’s breakfast of wild imagination, egregious fiction and paranoid fantasy:
And of course the staff have to live with the consequences when this toxic material gets into the media. Imagine Collus staff being subsequently ordered to manage that codswallop by town administration (for whom they do not work but who demand of their time and energy regardless):
Meanwhile, Collus staff prepare their own report using facts and actual data to counter the administration’s bizarre imaginings. They show the draft to the interim CAO who recoils in horror. Facts! They’re using facts against me! This starts the ball rolling to bring in outsiders to handle this challenge to his autocratic authority:
The administration complains that it already has too much on its plate to personally handle more work, and will have to hire outsiders to do it instead. Why this is so is never clear since the administration seems not to be occupied with anything else except this one issue:
And then someone asks where this fits in the town’s strategic plan. Which is, of course, neither strategic nor a plan, but rather a pile of flaccid buzzwords, clichés and wishful thinking developed by another out-of-town consultant. But the administration sees the opportunity to leverage it to their own uses:
A few staff question some of the wisdom of associating the two unrelated documents or using any of the gibberish in the CBSP for actual work:
Administration explains why the town should hire an outsider (to tell the Block what to think). Only those few council members not in The Block react skeptically:
And despite their questionable qualifications, administration insists consultants should be brought in. This suits the consultants:
And these consultants, apparently skilled in the art of hypnosis, easily convince administration they have what it takes:
(The cookie-cutter CPSP mirrored dozens of other municipalities’ so-called strategic plans, but ours was different because it said Collingwood on it…)
It takes little effort to convince administration to open the town’s wallet. After all, they don’t pay for it. You do. And they can always raise your taxes when they want more money. Which they have done, BTW, twice already.
The consultant hires some friends to join in the fun, and also to make it look like it’s not just some little one or two person operation working out of a basement in a suburban townhouse:
So the consultant and his minions look at the issue (say, the relationship between Collus PowerStream and the town) and come up with a “solution”:
And then he presents his report to the administration in an easily understandable format that cunningly buries any inconvenient facts:
After which the consultant speaks to staff and The Block, explaining the methodology in use:
The consultant easily backhands any objections:
Ka-ching! The consultants come up with ideas to sell more, always with an eye on the bottom line:
Well, of course accuracy doesn’t matter! What matters is empty buzzwords. You can just see the report being written in this strip (sure sounds like the CBSP, too):
The consultants form a committee and call a public meeting. Not to get any real input, of course, because the conclusion has already been written, but simply to legitimize the fat cheque at the end of the process:
Eventually the report is finished and presented to administration:
But Collus PowerStream employees and board members object, suggesting that the consultant is full of bullshit, and the report is full of easily disproven errors and lies. The administration ignores their concerns:
The consultant responds to the attack of facts. In order to avoid The Block having to actually think about anything (the danger of their heads exploding from thought is a real threat in town hall), Collus staff is bullied into compliance:
Sensing discontent, the administration feels the need to rationalize the full crushing of staff morale by firing employees (think Collus PowerStream again). The consultant comes to the rescue:
Then the administration calls an in camera meeting to tell The Block how to handle questions about the plan, carefully sidestepping the few meek objections from non-Blockheads:
And in that secret meeting, the consultant explains how to handle the underhanded objections and reports from Collus employees which contradict the findings from the consultant by using facts and actual data:
Okay, you get the picture. Don’t you agree these few examples show just how closely a cartoon strip can mimic real life? Dilbert can be uncannily like the local situation. Maybe Scott Adams is actually secretly cartooning from our very town and bases his ideas on what he reads in this blog (certainly not in the EB…). I’m sure I’ll find more examples in the future to share.
Collingwood deserves better. This term has been such a joke that we deserve our own cartoon strip. But it wouldn’t be very funny at all.