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How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life Hardcover – October 22, 2013
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The creator of the Dilbert comic strip is also the author of several nonfiction books that apply Dilbert’s philosophy to the workplace. Here he takes an autobiographical approach, using his own life to illustrate his thesis that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Adams’ own list of failures is—given his spectacular success as a cartoonist—surprisingly lengthy: a couple of unsuccessful restaurants as well as computer games, inventions, and online businesses that all tanked. Adams isn’t bummed by any of his flops because—and this is the key element of his philosophy—you learn by trying, not by succeeding. And every failure in life helps point us in the direction of ultimate success. (Adams says he would never have become a cartoonist if it weren’t for a combination of personal failures and the successes of some of his friends, who were willing to take personal risks.) Readers familiar with the author’s previous nonfiction will note the same easygoing, conversational style here, an approach that works perfectly for blending humor with serious advice. --David Pitt
“Adams has a funny, refreshingly considered set of ideas about how to find success—and what that success will look like when one gets there.”
“Scott Adams has drawn nearly 9,000 Dilbert cartoons since the strip began, in 1989, and his cynical take on management ideas, the effectiveness of bosses, and cubicle life has affected the worldview of millions. But he built his successful career mainly through trial and error—a whole lot of error, to be exact.
—Harvard Business Review
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His key ideas are easy to follow because he keeps it simple and Scott Adams writes in a clear and witty manner
For example the chapter on applying a system vs setting goals and trying to follow them was worth the price of the book many times over for me (and this is reinforced through the book). In his own words goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation (where you are often waiting to achieve it someday in the future) whereas a system is something you do on a regular or daily basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in life. Wanting better health or wanting to lose 10 kg are goals. Being active everyday is a system. One is tied to another - but goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn and the systems people are feeling good every-time they apply their system.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone smart and weary of reading tired cliches in the self-help genre. The book is a breath of fresh air!
As Adams says, you shouldn't take life advice from a cartoonist, but I did. I would enjoy reading more of his books as he is an interesting and outside-the-box thinker. Though it's not an earth-shattering-revelation tome, I give it 5 stars for ease and likeliness of success.
I would say any book that holds my interest like that deserves a 5-start rating, though there are a few things that I'd tweak to get it closer to perfection. My official score, being a tough grader, is a 4.6/5.0 and I wouldn't resell it for twice what I paid ... especially now that it's fully highlighted and sticky-noted throughout (which makes the book more valuable to me now because I've identified the portions that spoke directly to me and my own experiences).
I really enjoyed Scott's independent thinking and challenges of conventional wisdom throughout this book, especially as it contrasts with other self-help, goal-setting or business advice books. For instance, choosing an opportunity for which one has some sort of inherent advantage rather than blindly prescribing "you can do whatever you want" appeals to my pragmatic mind. I have wrestled with this exact conclusion within the past year as I work through my own list of new ideas and opportunities, so I enjoyed that perspective as it resonates with my own thinking.
I really enjoyed the thinking on pg. 40, which is fully highlighted, less perhaps a couple sentences. This is where Scott talks about his mental model of not wanting to sell his time due to limited upside and finding a product that is infinitely scalable. I appreciated this candidness, which allows the reader to better understand the later "luck" and apparent rapid success of Dilbert. It's clear to me, Scott's success was a lifetime in the making, the product of continued experimentation and the tenacity to stay at it. This whole book was helpful to me, as my model is exactly the same and the road to success is anything but certain when you're placing bets on what the public wants. Having a system that embraces and anticipates failure, in particular, is an essential tool to avoid letting temporary results bleed over into derailing what could be a highly successful longer-term career choice.
Pg. 88, talking about when to quit and how successful ventures often have SOME element of success early-on also resonated with me, and is another page that is more yellow than white after reading this book. These comments also directly resonated with some false-starts I've had, where I correctly pulled the plug after minimal investment of time because things just did not feel right almost from the get-go. I felt poorly about pulling the red handle so early while I was ejecting, but now looking back I know I was practicing the exact type of discipline one needs to practice when trying totally new things. Plan on a good chunk of your initial tests, ideas and hypotheses being off the mark and blindly plowing time and effort at soft-starts is a recipe for disaster. One of my favorite quotes in the book is "Persistence is useful, but there's no point in being an idiot about it." That got a "lol!"
I also appreciated Scott's thoughts on useful core skills, especially psychology. This topic has become more and more interesting to me after sluffing through Pscych 202 in college, when it seems like a diversion from more useful topics. I now see how important that is, and also how little I know in this universe of knowledge. The terms page of psychological topics is a lifetime of potential study in itself, so the book leads you to new domains of study if you so choose.
Scott urges the reader to not accept anything at face value, and my personal model embraces a good chunk of this body of wisdom with a few of my own twists. Any book that holds your interest and gives you new things to think about is worth owning and reading, in my opinion. This book satisfies that criteria with ease. Thank you for writing it and good luck with the book.
Unfortunately, though, it drops the ball on the central premise of the book: Goals Are Bad vs. Systems Are Good.
After finishing this book I was left with a lot of questions about Systems:
- What are they exactly?
- What are the components of a good system (do's and don'ts)?
- How are they different than a project?
While I understand that it can be a bit subjective, it would've been helpful if Scott spelled out "For Idiots" some of his systems. He alludes to them in the last bit about staying active, where his system allows "slippage". Again, having more visibility into the specifics of one or more of his systems (real or hypothetical examples) with some detail behind it would have made the book much better.
At issue is while I accept the premise that Systems are Better than Goals, I've got no clarity on how to go about setting up systems for myself. That was the big disappointment with the book. Otherwise it's plenty entertaining, and certainly gets to second or third base, but sadly isn't a home run.
I plan to copy / paste this into a tweet for @ScottAdamsSays (who is well worth following) in the hopes that he can direct me to some blog posts or respond to my question about.