Today’s Dilbert – Employee Ideas, PHBs & Chipmunks


Today's Dilbert is a very funny illustration of what goes wrong in what you might call “boss-driven suggestion systems.”

The first part of the strip, which starts off with the “pointy-haired boss” (PHB) asking Dilbert if he has any “great” ideas.


What's the threshold for “great”?

See the whole strip here.

The cartoon perfectly illustrates one of the problems with typical “suggestion box” systems. It's also the same problem that we see with many “ideation” systems” — the evaluation of ideas is too often done by leaders or senior leaders (or a committee) that's too disconnected from the actual work being done.

In the real world, it's usually more subtle and more complex than the boss being “dumb.”

For one, there are different types of smart. I couldn't evaluate a doctor's proposed change to a clinical protocol any more than I could evaluate a microprocessor design. That doesn't mean I'm dumb. I'd be dumb to put my own opinion above that of the real experts.

Secondly, managers who vote yes or no on suggestions might be smart, but are disconnected from the workplace or the “gemba” as we'd say in Lean. Staff might have a valid suggestion about solving a problem in their work… but managers don't see the problem and, therefore, maybe it makes it easy for them to say “no” to spending a little bit of money.

In our Healthcare Kaizen books, Joe Swartz and I try to paint a pretty clear picture of how Kaizen is different than suggestion box systems. With Kaizen, managers empower and delegate… they are involved and collaborative rather than being in control.

That's why Kaizen works so well.

What do you see out there? More Kaizen or more PHB behavior?


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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