Willy Wonka and the Four or Five Wonks.

He’s judging you.

It occurred to me watching a somewhat stripped down musical production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that it is metaphorically very similar to the way Dilbert looks at the world. The aging CEO of a brilliantly innovative company wants to retire, so he gathers representatives together from a bunch of different departments to pick his successor. Each of them represents a terrible sort of business stereotype, and fails in a spectacularly dysfunctional way except the one who doesn’t:


Augustus Gloop — Sales: Entertains everyone with too much food. Knows very little about the technical details of the business. He is ruined by excess and extravagance.

Violet Beauregarde — Advertising: Endlessly competitive and constantly overstating her accomplishments. Her undoing is chasing the next big thing too fast.

Mike Teavee — Marketing: Completely self-absorbed, focused on media as a metaphor for real life instead of real life itself. His fatal flaw is rushing new products out the door before they’re adequately tested.

Veruca Salt — HR/Operations: Brutally efficient, cares only about the output of the company and not the welfare of its people. She gets too caught up in automation without examining the consequences, and suffers them herself.

And Charlie. Charlie is Product/Engineering. He intuitively understands the needs of the customer, and he wins by being simultaneously humble, honest, and super lucky.

But… maybe this is not how you see it at all.

Maybe Charlie is the brilliant sales guy who gets what the customers need, and Mike is that pesky Engineering department always pushing for new features that are cool but benefit nobody. Maybe Veruca is the VP of Acquisitions, trying to find a small organization that does things in a novel way to solve the unique problem her lumbering megacorporation can’t handle because of institutionalized process, and Violet is that irresponsible project manager rushing the product to demo before it’s ready. Maybe Augustus is that VP everybody secretly hates.

Which characteristic terrible behavior pattern each of these people represents probably depends on your past experiences. Where you put each of them probably says something about you, your working situation, and your employment history. It seems like a vaguely interesting sort of Rorschach test for corporate happiness, and it’s probably just as meaningless as the real thing, or a Facebook quiz. Maybe we all should stop looking for these stereotypes, because if we do, we’ll only end up seeing them.

One thing is certain: everybody is QA.


(Thanks to my friends at the Rands Leadership Slack for helping me refine this and figure out what I wanted to say.)