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Dilbert Creator Fools Executives

November 15, 1997 GMT

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ If Scott Adams ever tires of drawing his Dilbert cartoon strip, he could easily make a living as one of the business types he loves to lampoon: a management consultant.

Adams, illustrating that the workplace absurdities he mocks in print are disturbingly close to reality, fooled executives at a Silicon Valley company by masquerading as a nonsense-spewing consultant, the San Jose Mercury News reported Sunday.

``What if I was a management consultant?″ Adams wondered. ``I could lead a bunch of executives in writing a mission statement so impossibly complicated that it has no real context whatsoever.″

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That’s just what Adams did last month at Logitech International, the world’s biggest maker of computer mice, according to an account in the Mercury News’ West magazine.

With the gleeful complicity of Logitech co-founder and vice chairman Pierluigi Zappacosta, Adams presided over a meeting of nearly a dozen company managers. No one saw through his disguise: wig and false mustache, gray suit, arrogant manner and bizarre suggestions.

``When you look at management consultants, it’s a little scary actually,″ Zappacosta said.

The vice chairman summoned executives to a lunchtime meeting with Adams _ alias Ray Mebert _ to draft a new mission statement for Logitech’s New Ventures Group.

Zappacosta’s memo touted Mebert (given the French pronunciation May-BEAR) as an expert with ``special talents as a facilitator″ who can help the group ``crisply define″ its goals.

Mebert arrived at Logitech’s Fremont, Calif., headquarters with a photographer, videotaping crew and West contributing writer Tia O’Brien, passing herself off as the consultant’s personal assistant.

``Wow, he’s got to be expensive,″ muttered one executive, impressed by the size of Mebert’s entourage.

The phony consultant gave his bogus credentials _ ``I did the Harvard MBA thing″ _ that included work on Procter & Gamble’s ``Taste Bright Project,″ a secret effort to boost sales by improving the smell and taste of soap.

``There actually are some people who admitted in focus groups that they would sometimes taste soap,″ Mebert explained. Executives, following Zappacosta’s enthusiastic lead, nodded agreement.

Mebert cited a fictional study on the value of mission statements, then proceeded to diagrams, drawing three interlocking circles. After apologizing for his poor artwork, he explained that the figures were his ``cognitive framework″ _ a ``mission triad″ of ``Authority,″ Linguistics″ and ``Message.″

Where the circles meet is the ``Buy-In Zone,″ where employees will accept the mission statement, Mebert told the executives, some of which dutifully took notes.

O’Brien, who said she nearly choked on a sandwich when she heard Mebert compare mission statements to broccoli soup, thought someone must have begun wondering if the meeting was a joke.

Some executives fidgeted and even looked impatient. One questioned the need for a new mission statement but kept quiet after Mebert talked him down.

``As long as the boss is enraptured, the gang follows along,″ O’Brien wrote.

In his real-life role, Adams produces his daily comic strip at his home in Danville, Calif. Dilbert, named after the nerdy central character, appears in 1,700 newspapers in 51 countries and on bulletin boards and employee cubicles at innumerable companies. Including Logitech.

The strip and its characters _ among them the clueless, pointy-haired boss and Dilbert’s malevolent canine, Dogbert _ spawned the Dilbert web site, calendars, mugs, and several books, including three current New York Times best sellers.

Mebert sneered at the New Ventures Group’s existing statement _ ``to provide Logitech with profitable growth and related new business areas″ _ and then led an exercise in which managers suggested words and ideas that might become part of a new one.

Active? Not good enough for Mebert, who made it ``proactive.″ Education became ``education-osmosis.″ But Mebert did approve ``paradigms.″

At last, the new statement was written: ``The New Ventures Mission is to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings.″

Mebert suggested that the management team write a song based on the statement. Executives gave some strange looks and smiles, but no one protested.

The consultant drew a final diagram, one that he said would bring the session into focus: a picture of Dilbert. Mebert then pulled off his wig, revealing Adams’ thinning locks.

``You’ve all been had,″ he said.

Silence. Then laughter and applause. Adams later autographed Dilbert strips posted on Logitech cubicles and praised the company.

``It’s a pretty healthy culture: a company without fear,″ he said. ``Just look at all the Dilberts and the fact that they invited me in.″

The Logitech executives, who had been annoyed by Mebert, said they didn’t object to his suggestions out of respect for Zappacosta. And they took the joke with good grace.

``I’ve had worse,″ Jack Zahorsky, senior program manager for control devices, said of Adams’ performance as a consultant.

``If Adams hadn’t revealed himself, I wonder how many of us would have gone home and tried tasting our soap?″ he wondered.