How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life - by Scott Adams

17 minute read

ISBN: 978-0241003701, READ: 2017-01-30, RATING: 10/10

This is the only book I’ve ever recommended to my juniors seeking career advice. Have made about 7 people buy and read it. So much value from Scott in this book. Have read it twice so far, and will read it more in the future to capture and practice 1 idea at a time.

See Amazon Page for details and reviews.

Key Lessons

The book offers so much “life hacks” that it’s impossible to keep everything in head and try them out. Few things that I’m remembering now that I want in my life:

  • Get up early - 5 am - every day and spend it working on the “Big Project” that you think might make you rich, happy and free some day in the future.
  • Talent Stack - Be good at multiple things. Don’t just vertically dive. Spread horizontally so you can draw from a number of talents. To this effect, I want to learn these things apart from my primary skill of programming: email marketing, video making/editing, writing newsletters, wordpress, writing books, drawing comics etc.
  • Exercise Daily, or more precisely, “Be Active Everyday”.
  • Affirmations, apparently are real things that have worked for at least 1 Scott.
  • Master the skill of persuasion.

My Highlights

you should never exercise so much in one day that you won’t feel like being active the next day.

But I am a professional simplifier.

it’s hard to know when a cartoonist is being serious and when he or she is constructing an elaborate practical joke. I’ve crafted pranks that spanned years, sometimes when no one was in on the joke but me.

When I was in my twenties, I didn’t know anyone who could tell me how to become a cartoonist, how to write a book, or how to be successful in general. This was a big obstacle to my success. It seemed as if other people were benefiting greatly from the wisdom of their friends and families. That’s exactly the sort of inequality that pisses me off and motivates me at the same

Consistency is the bedrock of the scientific method.

if every time you eat popcorn, one hour later you fart so hard that it inflates your socks, you can reasonably assume popcorn makes you gassy. It’s not science, but it’s still an entirely useful pattern.

When seeking truth, your best bet is to look for confirmation on at least two of the dimensions I listed. For example, if a study indicates that eating nothing but chocolate cake is an excellent way to lose weight, but your friend who tries the diet just keeps getting fatter, you have two dimensions out of agreement. (Three if you count common sense.) That’s a lack of consistency.

To minimize the feeling of absurdity in your life, I recommend using a specific system for sorting truth from fiction. The system will be useful for reading this book, and it could be even more important in your life. The system recognizes that there are at least six common ways to sort truth from fiction, and interestingly, each one is a complete train wreck. The Six Filters for Truth Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.) Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.) Experts (They work for money, not truth.) Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.) Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.) Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence, and personal bias look alike.)

Once you have your bullshit filter working, think about how you begin the process of tackling any new and complicated problem. There’s one step you will always do first if it’s available to you: You’ll ask a smart friend how he or she tackled the same problem.

Luckily for me, I don’t feel embarrassment the way normal people do,

there is no such thing as useful information that comes from a company’s management.

The day of the interview featured a typical upstate New York half blizzard with ass-freezing temperatures. I decided I didn’t need a jacket for the trip because I was only going from building to car and back. This was only one of the remarkably stupid decisions I made that day.

I didn’t want to take the chance of getting kicked off the flight for being poorly dressed. That’s exactly the sort of mistake I make.

In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.

had ignored my father’s advice to work for the Postal Service. That turned out to be a good idea. I got into college without much help from my guidance counselor, and I stayed in school against my doctor’s advice. This was about the time that my opinion of experts, and authority figures in general, began a steady descent that continues to this day.

was agnostic about what specific sort of business I would someday run. All I knew for sure is that I needed to be ready when the time was right.

I still have the diary I wrote when I graduated from Hartwick, in which I outlined my entrepreneurial plan. The idea was to create something that had value and—this next part is the key—I wanted the product to be something that was easy to reproduce in unlimited quantities.

And every day during those years I woke up with the same thought, literally, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and slapped the alarm clock off. Today’s the day.

I needed a job right away because all I owned was my ill-fitting clothes, a plastic alarm clock, a watch that worked occasionally, a toiletry bag, and two thousand dollars that my parents had scraped together as a college graduation present. My plan was to start at the bottom and claw my way to the top.

It seemed as if my only valuable skill were interviewing for the next job.

Most of my budget spreadsheets had formula errors, but that didn’t matter because all of the inputs from the various departments were complete lies and bullshit. If anything, my errors probably smoothed out some of the bullshit and made it closer to truth. It was a truly absurd existence.

My best estimate is that I will personally consume about 10 percent of the total wealth I create over my career. The rest goes to taxes, future generations, start-up investments, charity, and stimulating the economy.

Influence works best when the person being influenced has no objection to the suggested change. Often all one needs is some form of permission to initiate a change, and it doesn’t always matter what form the permission is in, or if it even makes sense.

I should pause here for my more literal readers and explain that being selfish doesn’t mean you should let a runaway baby carriage roll into traffic if you think stopping it will make you ten seconds late for work. Humans are so emotionally and societally connected with one another that often the best thing we can do for ourselves is to help others. I’ll trust you to recognize those situations. Being selfish doesn’t mean being a sociopath. It just means you take the long view of things.

Cesar’s main trick involved training the humans to control their own emotional states, because dogs can pick up crazy vibes from their owners. When the owners learned to control themselves, the dogs calmed down too. I think this same method applies to humans interacting with other humans.

Don’t Be an Asshole

If you think of your bad behavior as a lifestyle choice, as in “being yourself” or “just being honest,” you might be ignoring the cost to your personal energy. When you piss off the people around you, there is bound to be some blowback and wasted effort cleaning up the mess you made. It can all be quite distracting and draining.

Good health and sufficient money are necessary for a base level of happiness, but you need to be right with your family, friends, and romantic partners to truly enjoy life.

Your attitude affects everything you do in your quest for success and happiness. A positive attitude is an important tool. It’s important to get it right. The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.

No matter what you want to do in life, higher energy will help you get there.

The next time you’re in a gloomy mood, try smiling at a stranger you pass on the street. You’ll be surprised how many people reflexively return the smile, and if you smile often enough, eventually that cue will boot up the happiness subroutine in your brain and release the feel-good chemicals you desire.

In many cases, it’s your point of view that influences your behavior, not the universe. And you can control your point of view even when you can’t change the underlying reality.

Pause for a moment to reflect on that. There were over six billion people in the world, and one of the most published experts in the field worked within walking distance of my home. Never assume you understand the odds of things.

At my day job, as I sat through endless boring meetings, I started practicing my drawing motion by touching my pen to paper and then pulling up before the spasm started. I tapped the page hundreds of times per meeting under the table on the notepad on my lap. My idea was to rewire my brain gradually, to relearn that I can touch pen to paper and not spasm. I was literally trying to hack my brain. My hypnosis training suggested this might be possible.

The primary purpose of schools is to prepare kids for success in adulthood. That’s why it seems odd to me that schools don’t have required courses on the systems and practices of successful people.

Even an engineer who deals mostly with the material world needs to understand how his boss feels, how customers feel, and how users will perceive the product. You can’t get away from the need to make decisions based on psychology.

Every psychological trap on this list can be used to manipulate you. If there’s something on this list that you’re not familiar with, you’re vulnerable to deception.

Rational behavior is especially useless in any situation that is too complex for a human to grasp. Cell-phone companies exploit that fact by offering pricing plans that are too complicated to compare with the competition.

also learned that art composition for anything from a magazine cover to an oil painting to a PowerPoint slide should conform to a few basic templates. The most common is the L-shaped layout. You imagine a giant letter L on the page and fill in the dense stuff along its shape, leaving less clutter in one of the four open quadrants.

When I was a teen, I thought conversation was a complete waste of time and something to be avoided. I was aware that there were several alleged reasons for conversation, but I didn’t see much value in them. I was a bore.

The focus of the class was on public speaking, but we also learned techniques for making conversation with strangers, such as one might in a party or business situation. The technique is laughably simple and 100 percent effective. All you do is introduce yourself and ask questions until you find a point of mutual interest.

Here’s a summary of good conversation technique. Ask questions. Don’t complain (much). Don’t talk about boring experiences (TV show, meal, dream, etc.). Don’t dominate the conversation. Let others talk. Don’t get stuck on a topic. Keep moving. Planning is useful but it isn’t conversation. Keep the sad stories short, especially medical stories.

The point of conversation is to make the other person feel good. If you do that one simple thing correctly, the other benefits come along with the deal.

If you’re physically attractive, it probably isn’t a good idea to talk too much. People are predisposed to liking attractive people. Talking can only make things worse.

There is one topic that people care more about than any other: themselves. Pick story topics that your listeners will relate to.

I credit one of my college friends with teaching me the secret of overcoming shyness by imagining you are acting instead of interacting. And by that I mean literally acting.

When I fake my way past my natural shyness, I like to imagine a specific confident person I know well. I do my bad impression of that person and it comes off much better than my default routine of breaking into a sweat, laughing too hard at my own jokes, and excusing myself to go sit in a corner and perspire.

People who appear outgoing are usually employing a learned social skill that you think is somehow natural. It probably isn’t, at least not entirely. Outgoing people usually come from families with at least one outgoing parent. They observe and imitate. Being outgoing is partly genetic, but you still need to know what to say when. That part is learned. And the good news is that you can learn it too. Observe outgoing people and steal their little tricks if you can. I’ve been doing that for years. It works great.

I also find it helpful to remind myself that every human is a mess on the inside. It’s easy to assume the good-looking and well-spoken person in front of you has it all together and is therefore your superior. The reality is that everyone is a basket case on the inside. Some people just hide it better. Find me a normal person and I’ll show you someone you don’t know that well. It helps to remind yourself that your own flaws aren’t that bad compared with everyone else’s.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Do you golf?” It annoyed the hell out of me until I learned the game. Now I’m happy that I can so easily find common ground on a feel-good topic.

If the science is accurate, an effective way to ask for money might look something like this: “May I borrow a hundred dollars, because I don’t get paid until next week?” That’s not much of a justification for borrowing money; no real reason is given. The person asking for money hasn’t even said why he needs it. It just feels as if a reason had been offered because of “because.”

Persuasive Words and Phrases Because Would you mind … ? I’m not interested. I don’t do that. I have a rule … I just wanted to clarify … Is there anything you can do for me? Thank you This is just between you and me.

Studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini show that people are more cooperative when you ask for a favor using a sentence that includes the word because, even if the reason you offer makes little or no sense.

There’s no argument against a lack of interest. Repeat your claim of disinterest as often as it takes to end the conversation. You might be surprised how effective this method is. I’ve been using it for years. It’s a total conversation killer.

People tend to double down when challenged, no matter how wrong they are. A more effective way to approach a dangerous social or business situation is sideways, by asking a question that starts with “I just wanted to clarify …” That approach might look like this: “I just wanted to clarify: Are you saying you’re okay with an 80 percent chance of going to jail, or did I hear your plan wrong?”

It’s helpful to have different vocal strategies for different situations. Your fun voice might be higher pitched and more rapid paced, whereas your serious voice might be deeper and more measured. It’s important to keep a lot of distance between your fun voice and your persuasive voice. For people who know you, the serious voice will send an unambiguous signal that the topic is important and you might not be open to negotiating.

The holy grail of civilization is to someday make all people successful by discovering the formula used by successful people and making it available to all. As far as I know, Stephen Covey’s seven habits didn’t budge the poverty rate, so there are probably deeper patterns at play.

As far as physical bravery goes, I don’t know anything about it. But I’m glad some people have it so they can shoot the other people who have it before those people shoot me.

Generally speaking, the people who have the right kind of education have almost no risk of unemployment.

People generally broadcast their sense of humor from the moment you meet. You can observe what people laugh at, what sort of stories they tell, and whether they have an edgy personality.

The details of affirmations probably don’t matter much because the process is about improving your focus, not summoning magic.

maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.

If no longer craving your favorite food sounds like a sacrifice, it isn’t. That’s an illusion caused by the fact that it’s nearly impossible to imagine losing a craving of any kind. Cravings feel like they grow directly from our core. They feel a part of us. My experience is that cravings can be manipulated. I’ve successfully erased cravings for a wide variety of less-healthy foods. I do them one at a time, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.

eating simple carbs depletes my energy so thoroughly that a few hours after consuming them I can fall asleep within thirty seconds of closing my eyes. I literally use white rice like a sleeping pill on evenings when I’ve had too much coffee.

Breaking the Simple-Carb Addiction: The willpower you need to resist simple carbs such as white potatoes, white bread, and white rice has to come from somewhere, and as I mentioned earlier, studies show that using willpower for anything reduces how much you have in reserve for other temptations. The approach that works for me involves stealing willpower from the part of my brain that tries to avoid overeating. You might want to give my method a try. For a few months, eat as much as you want of anything that is not a simple carb. That frees up your willpower so you can use it to avoid those delicious and convenient simple carbs.

Here’s a fairly complete list of the foods that are the foundation of my weekly diet. I can eat as much as I want of the foods on this list, which I quite enjoy, and I won’t gain a pound as long as I stay active.

  • Bananas
  • Protein
  • bars
  • Peanuts
  • Mixed
  • nuts
  • Cheese
  • Whole
  • wheat
  • pasta
  • Edamame
  • (soybeans)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels
  • sprouts
  • Fish
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Quinoa
  • Brown
  • rice
  • Berries

Once you start on a vegetarian diet, the inconvenience is more than paid for by the way your body feels after a meal and the holier-than-thou sensation that comes with doing something that looks hard to others.

Coffee literally makes me enjoy work. No willpower needed.

Coffee costs money, takes time, gives you coffee breath, and makes you pee too often. It can also make you jittery and nervous if you have too much. But if success is your dream and operating at peak mental performance is something you want, coffee is a good bet.

Exercise is hard work in every imaginable sense. When you add marriage and kids to the mix, exercise can become completely impractical for many people.

Don’t be concerned about how much or how little you exercised on a given day. All that matters in the long run is that you made exercise a daily habit.

If we are indeed nothing but computer-generated entities, affirmations could be nothing more than an unremarkable bit of programming code.

If you plan to try affirmations, I recommend keeping your objectives broad enough to allow some luck. It’s probably better to affirm future wealth than to try to win a specific lottery.

Dilbert was running in over two thousand newspapers in sixty-five countries. I’d married Shelly and we’d started building a home. Externally things were great, but on the inside