A board meeting is in progress. One of a number of middle-aged men in suits leans forward: 'Our annual ISO 9000 audit is due next week,' he reminds his colleagues.

'We'll be OK if we put all of our non-conforming documents in the boots of our cars... and then torch them.' Welcome to the Dilbert Zone. Dilbert is an icon for the corporately disenfranchised, the office worker whose political innocence ensures he will never make it past the first rung on the career ladder.

He hasn't mastered the coffee machine but can configure a network faster than you can say 'cyberspace'. Every office has a Dilbert.

His boss, or rather The Boss, is every employee's worst nightmare. He wasn't born mean and unscrupulous - he worked hard at it. And as for stupidity, well some things are inborn.

The Boss is technologically challenged but stays abreast of the latest business trends, even though he rarely understands them.

Together, Dilbert, The Boss and a cast of all-too-familiar office stereotypes have been undermining management and the sanctity of corporate life for the past decade now, and currently appear in more than 1,900 papers in 53 countries. There's also a television show, spin-off products and lots more.

But it's not all entertainment - some of it could save you a great deal of time and effort. Who could think of its online random mission statement generator - containing 17 adverbs, 26 verbs, 39 adjectives and 20 nouns - as anything other than a great labour-saving device?

Dilbert is, of course, big business - United Media is very touchy about its copyright - but there are those to whom this comes as a shock.

As the author of The Trouble with Dilbert indignantly complains: 'Far from being subversive or promoting resistance, Dilbert is a fraud.'