Notes on Scott Adams’ ‘How to fail…’

Title: How to fail at almost everything and still win big: Kind of the story of my life
Author: Scott Adams
Download this article: .pdf (131 kB), .ePub (54 kB), .mobi (134 kB)

I’d read Scott ‘Dilbert’ Adams’ books before, but was reintroduced to his work when he became a notable voice during the recent US election. In his blog entries, he’d have a link to his book, and one time, he actually suckered me into buying it, so here we are.

‘How to fail…’ is a look at Adams’ struggles and successes, and he provides not so much a ‘how-to’ on living, but rather a ‘what works for me.’ He explains much in terms of ‘energy’:
Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up. When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my work is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track. And when all of that is working, and I feel relaxed and energetic, my personal life is better too.
– Location 885-888 (Amazon Kindle edition)

Nonetheless, Adams fosters self-discipline by thinking of himself as a programmable robot. It is clear that Adams is fine with leaving much of life a mystery, but his book is no less useful and informative.

Luck plays a role in success, but there are ways or life habits to help you stumble on luck.
I would try one thing after another until something creative struck a chord with the public.
– Location 729

It’s also important to be open to new knowledge and skills:
Most of my problems were caused by my own bad decisions, lack of skill, and bad luck. I can’t think of a single instance in which I was stopped because there was information I needed and I couldn’t find it.
– Location 1076-1077

[B]ecome good at something, anything, and let that feeling propel you to new and better victories. Success can be habit-forming.
– Location 1217-1218

The best way to increase your odds of success—in a way that might look like luck to others—is to systematically become good, but not amazing, at the types of skills that work well together and are highly useful for just about any job. This is another example in which viewing the world as math (adding skills together) and not magic allows you to move from a strategy with low odds of success to something better.
– Location 1689-1692

Adams writes of the need to develop systems, rather than goals, the latter requiring payoffs in an often unforeseeable future:
It’s smarter to see your big-idea projects as part of a system to improve your energy, contacts, and skills. From that viewpoint, if you have a big, interesting project in the works, you’re a winner every time you wake up.
– Location 1169-1170

[Y]ou shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway.
– Location 1246-1247

He provides numerous lessons in persuasion, such as this:
The way fake insanity works in a negotiation is that you assign a greater value to some element of a deal than an objective observer would consider reasonable. For example, you might demand that a deal be closed before the holidays so you can announce it to your family as a holiday present. When you bring in an emotional dimension, people know they can’t talk you out of it.
– Location 2276-2278

On happiness:
[I]t’s not a mystery of the mind and it’s not magic. Happiness is the natural state for most people whenever they feel healthy, have flexible schedules, and expect the future to be good.
– Location 2807-2809

It’s important to look at happiness in terms of timing because timing is easier to control than resources. It’s hard to become rich enough to buy your own private island but, relatively speaking, it’s easier to find a job with flexible hours. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule.
– Location 2781-2784

When learning to eat right, it is important to conserve willpower:
An attractive alternative makes willpower less necessary. It frees up your stockpile of willpower for other uses.
– Location 3030

A controversial matter that Adams has previously shared is his use of affirmations, that is, saying or writing a desired outcome or occurrence repeatedly, which apparently has worked for him. Or maybe he talks about affirmations as an experiment in readers’ gullibility; I could never be sure. I admit that I tried affirmations after reading ‘The Dilbert future’ in 2011, and while my affirmation was general if not vague in nature, my life since seems to have unfolded in accordance with it.

Whether you are a born optimist or you become one through affirmations, prayer, or positive thinking, you end up with several advantages that make it easier for luck to find you. Optimists notice more opportunities, have more energy because of their imagined future successes, and take more risks. Optimists make themselves an easy target for luck to find them.
– Location 3653-3655

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Scott Adams’ ‘How to fail…’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s