Scott Adams has written popular books and started a number of businesses. He’s a trained hypnotist and a master of persuasion. More recently he’s been writing deeply insightful and unique posts on the Presidential Election and related topics. Yet, to most people he’s just the ‘Dilbert’ guy.
In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, we see exactly how Scott Adams became that famous cartoonist among his other successes. Fortunately for the reader it’s so much more than him just making a couple doodles here and there. He had a long road to cartoon fame, and he explains his journey in this book.
He has a lot to say, but of course, as someone who made his name through humor, he has to take a jab at himself:
This is not an advice book. If you’ve ever taken advice from a cartoonist, there’s a good chance it didn’t end well.
This book covers a ton of ground—and that’s just what I love about it. People take for granted the fact that we can read such great books. Here you have a successful multi-millionaire giving you detailed advice on how to become successful too, all for the price of a book.
Without giving too much away, here is his book teaser for the concepts which he discusses:
- Goals are for losers.
- Your mind isn’t magic. It’s a moist computer you can program.
- The most important metric to track is your personal energy.
- Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
- Happiness is health plus freedom.
- Luck can be managed, sort of.
One review won’t do these justice. Entire articles can be written for each of these concepts—in fact, one is in the work for this concept of goals vs. systems. He obviously goes into detail himself, but it’s good to get a different perspective.
Is Passion the Key to Success?
You have to be passionate about something to be successful. At least that’s what they say. Certainly, being fond of the work you do is crucial to success, but it’s definitely not the only one.
Moreover, people who are passionate about something aren’t the best ones to talk about success, for such success would be clouded by too many emotions. It also beats saying that ‘I’m smarter and worked harder than you.’
If you ask a billionaire the secret of his success, he might say it is passion, because that sounds like a sexy answer that is suitably humble. But after a few drinks I think he’d say his success was a combination of desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk.
Energy is good. Passion is bullshit.
Learning From Failure
Just as we are told that we must be passionate about something to be successful, we are also told that we must fail many times at something before we succeed. Adams seems to agree more with this concept, as you may have guessed from the title:
…that’s exactly where you want to be: steeped to your eyebrows in failure. It’s a good place to be because failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.
It’s not that failing for the sake of failing is good, as some seem to misinterpret this advice as. Rather, it’s that failure can teach us valuable lessons, which we can then apply to the future to bring about success.
Scott is certainly not shy about his failures. He lists them and regularly goes into depth, providing anecdotes about past business practices. Readers will note that on many occasions, failure, at least in Adams’ case is not due to poor management or practices, but rather factors like timing and even shelf placement, which can kill and entire business.
These are crucial to keep in mind. I don’t like to say that certain factors are out of one’s control, but if hard work and a good idea were enough to make someone a billionaire Forbes magazine would be quite a bit thicker.
The Keys to Success
I know little about the cartoon industry. Though I would say it’s reasonable to imagine that it’s quite competitive.
Drawing for a living? What’s not to love?
So how does someone start from scratch to make their way to the top of the industry? Here’s how Adams did it:
I bought some art supplies, practiced drawing every morning before work, and wrote my affirmation fifteen times a day: “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.”
It’s essential to get your priorities in order and devote as much time as necessary to achieving that outcome. Many of us can’t simply snap our fingers and become a famous cartoonist—or a famous anything for that matter. Neither did Adams.
And that won’t be the case for you.
If you’re working or in school, you need to make time (not find time) for accomplishing your dream.
Creating a Schedule
If you have an outcome you want to achieve, you’re going to have to create a daily routine that allows you to work on this. This is something that means a lot to me, and it clearly does to Scott too.
He provides a lot of helpful advice throughout:
I know from experience that trying to be creative in the mid-afternoon is a waste of time. By 2: 00 P.M. all I can do is regurgitate the ideas I’ve seen elsewhere. At 6: 00 A.M. I’m a creator, and by 2: 00 P.M. I’m a copier. Everyone is different,
So I did the next best thing by going to bed early and getting up at 4: 00 A.M. to do my creative side projects.
I would wake at 4: 00 A.M. to draw before my commute, then work all day in my cubicle prison and come home to draw all night.
I never waste a brain cell in the morning trying to figure out what to do when.
For starters, my life requires a lot of mental energy. Today I will write two comics, a blog post, and a chapter of this book. I will work through some complicated real-estate and trust issues, finish some legal work for the start-up, do some quality testing, and still make time for family.
There’s a lot of people out there hustling, and if you’re not doing the same you’re not going to make it.
Learning New Skills
I’m currently reading Mastery by Robert Greene. It really delves into the psyche and habits of the world’s best performers and how they got to where they did.
Mastering an art or skill is highly sought after, but Adams doesn’t consider it necessary. He instead discusses a number of skills and suggests your pursue them, acquire a level of proficiency, and then use them together to leverage yourself in the world. These skills may include things like public speaking, knowing a second language, accounting and even proper grammar.
Personally, I prefer this method too. I would rather be a jack of all trades, knowing many skills, without being an expert at them. Life is more interesting that way, and apparently more lucrative.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Scott Adams is no stranger to fame, though it seems his name is popping up more and more these days online. I follow him on Twitter and read his articles, and have even seen him on cable news a few times. He’s clearly doing things right.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised reading How to Fail at Almost everything and Still Win Big, as the amount of practical knowledge on life is plentiful. I didn’t even include it all in this review—even great insight like the ‘happiness formula’. Even if you don’t follow him you can be sure that you’ll get a ton out of this book.
Click here to get your copy of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams.