Book Summary: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert comics)
The book is a humorous compilation of pragmatic lessons which Scott Adams learned while navigating his professional career.
The author admits his failures as well as successes openly.
He also talks about his personal medical problems – first his hand and then his speech.
Major takeaways from the book
- Passion is bullshit
Most people think passion causes success, it’s usually the other way round.
- Goals vs Systems
Goals are specific objectives while systems are to be followed on a regular basis. “Losing 10 pounds” is a goal, “eating healthier” is a system. Focus on better systems rather than goals. Systems-oriented people feel good every time they follow the system, goals-oriented are always busy chasing their goals and once they have attained it feel miserable (and start looking for another one). There are too many options (distractions) irrespective of the plan, the focus is important.
- Deciding vs wanting
A lot of people want something, successful ones decide that they are going to pursue it and are willing to pay the price for the same.
- Being selfish is important
Focus on self (be it food, exercise or career), once a reasonable level of success has been attained, you will automatically develop the feeling to start distributing its fruits.
- Maximize personal energy
Always try to optimize personal energy (Something which you a positive mental or physical lift), some people enjoy solace, some crowded places, decide what maximizes your personal energy and do those activities in spare time. Maximizing personal energy is selfish but has the best impact on the person and his/her contribution to society in the long run.
Between optimization (doing many things optimally) and simplification (doing just a few things), pursue simplification in the long run since it maximizes personal energy.
Priorities (highest to lower)
Self > Personal finance > family > community > country > world.
A positive attitude is not optional. Daydreaming, positive forms of entertainment, smiling, success (from anything spills into success in other fields), perceptions (even incorrect ones) – all contribute to the positive attitude.
- Who you know is important
You don’t need CEOs and billionaires, just knowing friends who know different things than you are sometimes sufficient.
- Recognizing your talents and knowing when to quit
Childhood obsessions and tolerance for risk are rough guides are talents. Deciding when to fight against an obstacle and when to quit is difficult, things which someday work out well, start out well (albeit small success), things which start bad usually never become successful.
- Repetition vs Novelty based jobs
Some jobs require a lot of practice (eg. sports), some require a lot of disciplined study and novelty (eg. software engineer, entrepreneur), decide which one suits your nature and choose a career path which is in line with your nature.
- Managing your Odds of Success
Every new skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
It’s better to be good at two complementary skills than excellent at one.
The more you learn, the easier it becomes to learn even more.
Read news about topics which interests you and which are positive in nature (avoid reading a lot about tragic events).
- The Maths of Success
Some skills increase odds of success – public speaking (Dale Carnegie’s course), psychology (List of biases), business writing(eg, using active over passive), accounting, design(basics – the L-shape), conversation, overcoming shyness, second language, golf, proper grammar, persuasion (being decisive, using write responses), technology and proper voice (pitch).
- Pattern Recognition
Learn to recognize patterns in life.
Certain patterns are direct predictor of success.
As per the author, lack of fear of embarrassment, education, exercise and looking at success as learnable skill are major patterns for successful people.
It’s not just a form of entertainment, it helps in developing more social connections as well as boosts personal energy.
Repeat to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want. It improves the odds of success.
The author is careful at pointing out that there might a coincidence or his selection bias in play here.
- Timing is luck too
Don’t ignore the importance of timing in success.
The world is like a slot machine where one has to put time, focus and energy and occasional rare payoffs can be big.
Experts are 98% right on easy cases but only 50% on unusually complicated cases.
If your intuition disagrees with experts, go with intuition, it could be an indicator of some pattern recognition which you can’t yet verbalize.
- Association Programming
Humans are social animals, we are influenced by people near us.
Spend time with people who most represent what you would like to become. Their good habits and energy will rub off on you.
Happiness has more to do with self than with the situation.
Happiness has more to do with direction than the current situation (when things are going in the right direction, we are happy).
In a career, improvement of skills makes a person feel happy. So, focus on a career where you can improve over time.
The imagination of a brighter future makes a person happy.
Exercise, diet (eat right) and sleeping enough strongly influence happiness.
Routines make us happy since they reduce the number of choices we have at any time (more choice makes us unhappy). Reduce daily decisions for routines.
Help others (after helping yourself).
Food impacts a person’s mood. Pay attention to energy level after eating certain foods.
All humans are different, find patterns in food, which food makes you feel better, which ones make you feel sleepy.
Remove unhealthy energy draining food from home and stock convenient healthy food instead.
Get enough sleep, tiredness causes the illusion of hunger.
Willpower is a limited resource, using that to fight against cravings is a bad idea instead author suggests an alternative, make a list of healthy food items and decide that “you will eat as much of healthy food items as you can”.
Over time, you will stop eating unhealthy food, in the long run, the habits of eating healthy food in limited quantities will become the norm.
Getting recommended dietary allowance with just food is impossible.
If eating for social reasons, choose the lowest calorie options.
Author’s diet consists primarily of complex carbs (like nuts), protein bar, fruits, and fish.
Don’t make healthy food bland by avoiding butter and salt, it’s better to eat healthy food with butter and salt than an unhealthy one.
The author recommends a vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet.
Coffee has higher highs and lower lows which aligns with creative workers, while it does make a person addicted, the trade-off is worth it.
Be active every day – don’t use willpower to decide workout and don’t do things you don’t like. Do anything which feels pleasant, walking is fine too.
Always exercise at the same time (routine).
Try Exercising with the spouse if married.
Don’t burn yourself out so that, the next day you won’t be able to do it.
Reward yourself after workout eg. relaxed reading for a while after a workout.
Failures will happen from time to time, learn from them and come forward because of that learning.
6 Replies to “Book Summary: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert comics)”
Loved the summary…saved me a lot of time in reading the book… 🙂
Sorry for being picky, but there is a small grammatical mistake at 3 places (in Happiness and Diet)…you have used “then” in place of “than”.
But then people will mostly get the point anyways 🙂
Thanks for pointing out the mistakes.
All of them have been corrected.
Amazing summary! Bookmarking this. Loved point 3. Deciding v/s Wanting.
Nice summary. Enjoyed it
When time permits shall go through the book
Great summary! Complete and helpful! Thank you very much for sharing!