Saturday, December 10, 2016

How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

As you might expect from the creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams is skeptical of the value of life advice from a cartoonist, even if he is that cartoonist. Even so, Adams has had very great success in his profession, so he might be doing something right even if he has a very wrongheaded explanation of it.

That is a point Adams makes in his book How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big. Some things work even if we don’t understand them. Some beliefs help us move toward the life we want even if they aren’t correct—often even if we know they’re wrong. Adams expresses skepticism about a lot of things, and encourages his readers to use discernment, but he is willing to use what works with our without a good explanation.

One of those things is affirmations. Adams does not believe that affirmations shape the universe, or that the human mind or will or being has the ability to do such a thing. In a late chapter of the book, he speculates on why they might have some effect or, more likely, how people might convince themselves that affirmations work. In any case, Adams correlates some of his greatest successes to his use of affirmations.

Of course, Adams’ life has not been one of uninterrupted success. The title of the book acknowledges his failures. He doesn’t get hung up on them. His view was that if he learned something or gained a new skill from a failed enterprise, he still gained something. In his estimation, “every sill you acquire doubles your odds of success.”

“Odds” is a good way to put it. When it comes down to it, success is a matter of luck. Adams believes that you can take steps to improve your ability to take advantage of the luck that comes your way

The way you do this is by implementing good systems. Adams doesn’t believe in goals. You feel like a failure if you haven’t achieved your goal; you lose your motivation when you complete your goal. Systems are things you can continue doing as long as they are useful. If you do something to implement your system, you’ve succeeded. A system is anything you do regularly in improve the likelihood that you’ll be happy in the long run.

To Adams, happiness is the heart of success. If you can sustain happiness, you’re successful in the ways that matter most. He describes it as a “chemistry experiment.” The idea is that we know a lot about what makes us happy and we just need to find the right mix of elements that fits our particular needs. To be happy one needs to maximize control  over their schedule, find ways to improve skills for a long time (especially in their careers and hobbies), imagine a better future, take care of health (diet, exercise and sleep), help others, and reduce daily decision-making by creating routines.

The book includes a host of other advice. Most of this advice is told in the context of Adams’ life story. He particularly focuses on his business and career failures (from which he learned useful things), the rise of Dilbert and his battle with a unique health problem.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in


Adams, Scott. How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.