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

Useful book with solid advices for everyone from the creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams. Main take-away from the book - use systems instead of goals…

Book highlights and notes

“When it comes to any big or complicated question, humility is the only sensible point of view.”

“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.)”

“The best example of the power of simplicity is capitalism. The central genius of capitalism is that all of its complexities, all of the differences across companies, all of the challenges, decisions, successes, and failures can be boiled down into one number: profits. That simplification allows capitalism to work. The underlying complexity still exists in business, but creating a clear and simple measure of progress makes capitalism possible.”

“I waited for the applause to stop. And when it did, I waited a little longer, as I had learned.”

“When you stand in front of an audience, your sensation of time is distorted. That’s why inexperienced presenters speak too rapidly.”

“Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value. I have a long history of profiting from failure. My cartooning career, for example, is a direct result of failing to succeed in the corporate environment.”

“You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.”

“But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”

“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.”

“The market rewards execution, not ideas. From that point on, I concentrated on ideas I could execute.”

“That failure taught me to look for opportunities in which I had some natural advantage.”

“The way our brains are wired, the lucky streaks feel good even if we know they are nothing but chance.”

“Timing is often the biggest component of success. And since timing is often hard to get right unless you are psychic, it makes sense to try different things until you get the timing right by luck.”

“I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job.”

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system.”

“If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

“I learned by observation that people who pursued extraordinarily unlikely goals were overly optimistic at best, delusional at worst, and just plain stupid most of the time.”

“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.”

“But being systems oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project I happened to be working on.”

“If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.”

“Successful people don’t wish for success; they decide to pursue it. And to pursue it effectively, they need a system. Success always has a price, but the reality is that the price is negotiable. If you pick the right system, the price will be a lot nearer what you’re willing to pay.”

“The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career, and still spending quality time with your family and friends.”

“Once all of my personal needs were met, my thoughts automatically turned to how I could make the world a better place.”

“Apparently humans are wired to take care of their own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world, roughly in that order.”

“The healthiest way to look at selfishness is that it’s a necessary strategy when you’re struggling. In hard times, or even presuccess times, society and at least one cartoonist want you to take care of yourself first. If you pursue your selfish objectives, and you do it well, someday your focus will turn outward. It’s an extraordinary feeling. I hope you can experience it.”

“The way I approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main metric: my energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities.”

“I’m suggesting that by becoming a person with good energy, you lift the people around you. That positive change will improve your social life, your love life, your family life, and your career.”

“For years, the prospect of starting “my own thing” and leaving my cubicle behind gave me an enormous amount of energy.”

“But the main truth is that blogging charges me up. It gets me going. I don’t need another reason.”

““Energy” is a simple word that captures a mind-boggling array of complicated happenings. For our purposes I’ll define your personal energy as anything that gives you a positive lift, either mentally or physically. Like art, you know it when you see it. Examples will help.”

“On the whole, capitalism channels selfishness in a direction that benefits civilization, not counting a few fat cats who have figured out how to game the system.”

“Everyone is different, but you’ll discover that most writers work either early in the morning or past midnight. That’s when the creative writing juices flow most easily.”

“You can accomplish more by the time other people wake up than most people accomplish all day.”

“Human nature is such that we’re good at following simple systems and not so good at following complicated systems.”

“Start-ups often do better by slapping together something that is 80 percent good and seeing how the public responds. There’s time to improve things later if the market cares about the product.”

“And more to the point of this chapter, when you know how to do something, you feel more energized to take it on.”

“I would define an asshole as anyone who chooses to make the lives of others less pleasant for reasons that don’t appear productive or necessary.”

“When you’re on the right path, it feels right, literally.”

“Priorities are the things you need to get right so the things you love can thrive.”

“It turns out you have that superpower. You can control your attitude by manipulating your thoughts, your body, and your environment.”

“Exercise, food, and sleep should be your first buttons to push if you’re trying to elevate your attitude and raise your energy.”

“It’s smarter to see your big-idea projects as part of a system to improve your energy, contacts, and skills.”

“Thanks to my experience with these exceedingly minor successes, I have a realistic understanding of how many hours it takes to be good at something. That keeps me from bailing out of things too soon. But more important, I know what winning feels like (great!) and it energizes me to seek more of it. In that sense I’m like any trained animal seeking a treat. A great strategy for success in life is to become good at something, anything, and let that feeling propel you to new and better victories. Success can be habit-forming.”

“In many cases, it’s your point of view that influences your behavior, not the universe.”

“Never assume you understand the odds of things.”

“By the way, drawing on the Wacom product cut my total workday in half. The focal dystonia was a case of extraordinary bad luck for a cartoonist.”

“What is less obvious is that you don’t need to know CEOs and billionaires. Sometimes you just need a friend who knows different things than you do. And you can always find one of those.”

“In the case of ordinary talent, how do you know which of your various skills can be combined to get something useful? It’s a vital question because you want to put your focus where it makes a real difference.”

“People generally accept outsized risk only when they expect big payoffs. Drawing inappropriate comics made me happy. To me, it was worth the risk.”

“Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.”

“Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way.”

“It’s generally true that if no one is excited about your art/product/idea in the beginning, they never will be.”

“Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.”

“The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success”

“Everything you learn becomes a shortcut for understanding something else.”

“Don’t think of the news as information. Think of it as a source of energy.”

  • Public speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business writing
  • Accounting Design (the basics)
  • Conversation
  • Overcoming shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Proper grammar
  • Persuasion Technology (hobby level)
  • Proper voice technique “

“The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism. I’ve had a number of occasions since then to test the powers of praise, and I find it an amazing force, especially for adults.”

“Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral.”

“Salespeople know they can manipulate buyers by controlling what they compare.”

“How much more effective would you be if you had a greater understanding of psychology? Answer: a lot.”

“Success in anything usually means doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t”

“Below is Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases

“You’ve heard the old saying that knowledge is power. But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power.”

“If you believe people use reason for the important decisions in life, you will go through life feeling confused and frustrated that others seem to have bad reasoning skills. The reality is that reason is just one of the drivers of our decisions, and often the smallest one.”

“When politicians tell lies, they know the press will call them out. They also know it doesn’t matter. Politicians understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions. A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments. That’s even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie. If you’re perplexed at how society can tolerate politicians who lie so blatantly, you’re thinking of people as rational beings. That worldview is frustrating and limiting.”

“Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.”

“Clean writing makes a writer seem smarter and it makes the writer’s arguments more persuasive.”

“When you take a photograph, you can use the same concept. Instead of centering the person in the pictures, adjust your field until the person is one side of the L and the ground is the bottom. The less-busy quadrant might be some landscape or the sunset.”

“Few people are skilled conversationalists. Most people are just talking, which is not the same thing. The difference is that skilled conversationalists have learned techniques that are surprisingly nonobvious to a lot of people.”

“All you do is introduce yourself and ask questions until you find a point of mutual interest.”

“Your job as a conversationalist is to keep asking questions and keep looking for something you have in common with the stranger, or something that interests you enough to wade into the topic.”

“I think everyone should learn how to tell a funny story. I don’t think people realize that storytelling is a learnable skill and not a genetic gift.”

“People drift off when you stop talking about stuff that isn’t, well, them.”

“You should also try to figure out which people are thing people and which ones are people people.”

“Success builds confidence and confidence suppresses shyness.”

“Men bond with other men through common activities. And for adult men, golf is as close as you can get to a universal activity.”

“The simple rule for “I” versus “me” is that the sentence has to make sense if you remove the other person mentioned in the sentence. For example, if you say, “Bob and I went to a movie,” it would still make sense if you removed “Bob and” and said, “I went to a movie.””

“Being a good persuader is like having a magic power.”

“Because 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.”

“I’ve found that the most effective way to stop people from trying to persuade me is to say, “I’m not interested.””

“If you phrase your clarification question correctly, it will shine an indirect light on the problem and provide a face-saving escape path.”

“The question frames you as the helpless victim and the person you are trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver. That’s a self-image that people like to reinforce when they have the chance.”

“thank-you, make sure it includes a little detail of what makes you thankful.”

“Keep in mind that most normal people are at least a little bit uncertain when facing unfamiliar and complicated situations.”

“But research shows that voice quality is far more important to your overall health and happiness than you might imagine.”

“Posture is also important for good speech. If you don’t sit up straight or stand straight, your vocal equipment will be pinched, and it will sound that way even if you don’t notice it yourself.”

“The quickest fix is simply to substitute silence where you once had “ums” and “uhs.””

  • Be proactive.
  • Begin with the end in mind. (Imagine a good outcome.)
  • Put first things first. (Set priorities.)
  • Think win-win. (Don’t be greedy.)
  • Seek first to understand then be understood.
  • Synergize. (Use teamwork.)
  • Sharpen the saw. (Keep learning.) “

“There’s one more pattern I see in successful people: They treat success as a learnable skill. That means they figure out what they need and they go and get it. If you’ve read this far, you’re one of those people. You’re reading this book because it offers a nonzero chance of telling you something that might be helpful.”

“The next time I used affirmations it was in pursuit of the rarest, most desirable job I have ever imagined. The affirmation went like this: “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” That worked out better.”

“I did something similar. I tried a lot of different ventures, stayed optimistic, put in the energy, prepared myself by learning as much as I could, and stayed in the game long enough for luck to find me. I hoped a buck would eventually walk by, and with Dilbert it did.”

“The one that stands out in my mind is that I really had no love for the work involved in the TV show, the Dilberito, or the restaurants.”

“The pattern I noticed is that the affirmations only worked when I had a 100 percent unambiguous desire for success.”

“If someone had suggested a plan for fixing my voice that had a 50 percent chance of killing me, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.”

“If your gut feeling (intuition) disagrees with the experts, take that seriously. You might be experiencing some pattern recognition that you can’t yet verbalize.”

“A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.”

“The next important thing to remember about happiness is that it’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.”

“Your taste preferences are more like a suggestion from your brain than a result of hardwiring.”

“The main thing I learned is that nutrition presents itself as science but is perhaps 60 percent bullshit, guessing, bad assumptions, and marketing.”

“There are three practical ways to schedule exercise in a marriage or marriagelike situation: Join an organized team. Always exercise at the same time every day. Exercise together (if you both really mean it).”

“Any form of positive thinking, prayer, or the like, would presumably put a person in a more optimistic mind-set. And because optimists have been shown in studies to notice more opportunities than pessimists, the result can look like luck.”

“Avoid career traps such as pursuing jobs that require you to sell your limited supply of time while preparing you for nothing better.”

“Some skills are more important than others, and you should acquire as many of those key skills as possible, including public speaking, business writing, a working understanding of the psychology of persuasion, an understanding of basic technology concepts, social skills, proper voice technique, good grammar, and basic accounting. Develop a habit of simplifying. Learn how to make small talk with strangers, and learn how to avoid being an asshole. If you get that stuff right—and almost anyone can—you will be hard to stop.”

“And always remember that failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Invite it in. Learn from it. And don’t let it leave until you pick its pocket. That’s a system.”