How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Scott Adams

CONTENTS

Super entertaining read. Exquisitely written by the Master persuader Scott Adams. I think this is particularly useful for those at an early stage of their career.

Check the Amazon page for details and reviews.

A quick summary:

Happiness is the only useful goal in life.

Unless you are a sociopath, your own happiness will depend on being good to others. And happiness tends to happen naturally whenever you have good health, resources, and a flexible schedule.

Get your health right first, acquire resources and new skills through hard work, and look for an opportunity that gives you a flexible schedule someday.

Focus on your diet first and get that right so you have enough energy to want to exercise. Exercise will improve your energy, and that in turn will make you more productive, more creative, more positive, more socially desirable, and better able to handle life’s little bumps.

Once you optimize your personal energy, all you need for success is luck. You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from strategies with bad odds to strategies with good odds. For example, learning multiple skills makes your odds of success dramatically higher than learning one skill.

Key Concepts:

  • Systems vs goals
  • Optimizing for energy
  • Talent stacking

Those below are direct quotes from the book. I simply organized based on some macro themes.

Summary Notes


Failure is your friend – Invite it and use it to grow

I have cultivated a unique relationship with failure. I invite it. I survive it. I appreciate it. And then I mug the shit out of it. 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.

I’ve long seen failure as a tool, not an outcome. I believe that viewing the world in that way can be useful for you too. Nietzsche famously said, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It sounds clever, but it’s a loser philosophy. I don’t want my failures to simply make me stronger,* which I interpret as making me better able to survive future challenges. Becoming stronger is obviously a good thing, but it’s only barely optimistic. I do want my failures to make me stronger, of course, but I also want to become smarter, more talented, better networked, healthier, and more energized

Career & Success

Why passion is not a good determinant of success

“My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate. Passionate people who fail don’t get a chance to offer their advice to the rest of us. But successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions about their secrets for success every day. Naturally those successful people want you to believe that success is a product of their awesomeness, but they also want to retain some humility. You can’t be humble and say, “I succeeded because I am far smarter than the average person.” But you can say your passion was a key to your success, because everyone can be passionate about something or other. Passion sounds more accessible.”

“In hindsight, it looks as if the projects I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”

Timing and luck are huge factors of success

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.

He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process. This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for the better deal. Did the businessman owe his current employer loyalty? Not in his view. The businessman didn’t invent capitalism, and he didn’t create its rules. He simply played within the rules. His employers wouldn’t have hesitated to fire him at the drop of a hat for any reason that fit their business needs. He simply followed their example

When you decide to be successful in a big way, it means you acknowledge the price and you’re willing to pay it. That price might be sacrificing your personal life to get good grades in school, pursuing a college major that is deadly boring but lucrative, putting off having kids, missing time with your family, or taking business risks that put you in jeopardy for embarrassment, divorce, or bankruptcy. 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 smartest system for discerning your best path to success involves trying lots of different things—sampling, if you will. For entrepreneurial ventures it might mean quickly bailing out if things don’t come together quickly. That approach might conflict with the advice you’ve heard all your life—that sticking with something, no matter the obstacles, is important to success. Indeed, most successful people had to chew through a wall at some point. Overcoming obstacles is normally an unavoidable part of the process. But you also need to know when to quit. Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.

Spend time with successful people

There are probably dozens of ways we absorb energy, inspiration, skills, and character traits from those around us. Sometimes we learn by example. Sometimes success appears more approachable and ordinary because we see normal people achieve it, and perhaps that encourages us to pursue schemes with higher payoffs. Sometimes the people around us give us information we need, or encouragement, or contacts, or even useful criticism. We can’t always know the mechanism by which others change our future actions, but it’s pretty clear it happens, and it’s important

Given our human impulse to pick up the habits and energy of others, you can use that knowledge to literally program your brain the way you want. Simply find the people who most represent what you would like to become and spend as much time with them as you can without trespassing, kidnapping, or stalking. Their good habits and good energy will rub off on you.

Talent stacking

When I speak to young people on the topic of success, as I often do, I tell them there’s a formula for it. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.

When I say each skill you acquire will double your odds of success, that’s a useful simplification. Obviously some skills are more valuable than others, and the twelfth skill you acquire might have less value than each of the first eleven. But if you think of each skill in terms of doubling your chances of success, it will steer your actions more effectively than if you assume the benefit of learning a new skill will get lost in the rounding

Another huge advantage of learning as much as you can in different fields is that the more concepts you understand, the easier it is to learn new ones

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.

Most useful skills:

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

Interpersonal Skills
 

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

So how do you get a stranger to like you? It’s simple, actually. It starts by smiling and keeping your body language open. After that, just ask questions and listen as if you cared, all the while looking for common interests. Everyone likes to talk about his or her own life, and everyone appreciates a sympathetic listener

Questions to ask
What’s your name? Where do you live? Do you have a family? What do you do for a living? Do you have any hobbies/sports? Do you have any travel plans? If you’re like me, the questions seem a bit too awkward and personal for someone you just met. The secret to making the list of six questions work without seeming awkward is in understanding that the person you meet will feel every bit as awkward as you. That person wants to talk about something interesting and to sound knowledgeable. Your job is to make that easy.

Storytelling

As a writer, I reflexively translate whatever I observe into a story form with a setup, a twist if there is one, and some sort of punch line or thought that ties it in a bow. You can do the same thing. Try to get in the habit of asking yourself how you can turn your interesting experiences into story form. I find it helps to imagine telling the story to someone in particular—a spouse, friend, or relative. Try a few versions in your head, telling the story and feeling how it goes. Was it brief? Did you save the surprise for just the right moment? Did you have a way to end the story with a punch line or interesting observation? It’s a good idea to always have a backlog of stories you can pull out at a moment’s notice. And you’ll want to continually update your internal story database with new material.

The most popular type of stories is … funny stories. I think everyone should learn how to tell a funny story.

The most important key to good storytelling is preparation. You don’t want to figure out your story as you tell it. If something story-worthy happens to you, spend some time developing the story structure in your head

Overcoming shyness

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. It turns out that a shy person can act like someone else more easily than he can act like himself. That makes some sense because shyness is caused by an internal feeling that you are not worthy to be in the conversation. Acting like someone else gets you out of that way of thinking. When I fake my way past my natural shyness, I like to imagine a specific confident person I know well.

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.

Like any other skill, suppressing shyness takes practice. The more you put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations, the easier they all become.

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.

Apparently the word “because” signals reasonableness, and reasonableness allows people to let down their defenses and drop their objections.

Goals vs. Systems

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.

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. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction

For our purposes, let’s say a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. 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.

The best systems are simple, and for good reason. Complicated systems have more opportunities for failure. Human nature is such that we’re good at following simple systems and not so good at following complicated systems.

Scotts Systems for success (SSS)

I figured my competitive edge was creativity. I would try one thing after another until something creative struck a chord with the public. Then I would reproduce it like crazy. In the near term it would mean one failure after another. In the long term I was creating a situation that would allow luck to find me. It helps a great deal to have at least a general strategy and some degree of focus. The world offers so many alternatives that you need a quick filter to eliminate some options and pay attention to others. Whatever your plan, focus is always important.

By design, all of my efforts were long shots. Had I been goal oriented instead of system oriented, I imagine I would have given up after the first several failures. It would have felt like banging my head against a brick wall. 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.

Healthy Systems

 Science has demonstrated that humans have a limited supply of willpower. If you use up your supply resisting one temptation, it limits your ability to resist others. Struggling to do anything has a steep price because you don’t want to use up your willpower and energy on something as unimportant as staying away from the candy drawe

 The main point for both diet and exercise is that you want to reduce the amount of willpower required

The first rule of eating right is avoiding foods that feel like punishment. No one gives out medals for choking down a big bowl of boredom. If eating a healthy diet feels unpleasant, you’re doing it wrong. And you’re wasting your limited stockpile of willpower.

Pay attention to your energy level after eating certain foods. Find your pattern. Remove unhealthy, energy-draining food from your home. Stock up on convenient healthy food (e.g., apples, nuts, bananas) and let laziness be your copilot in eating right

 Once exercise becomes habitual, you won’t need willpower to keep going because your body and brain will simply prefer it to being a couch spud. And your natural inclination for variety will drive you to do more stuff over time.

If you want to make a habit of something, the worst thing you can do is pick and choose which days of the week you do it and which ones you don’t. Exercise becomes a habit when you do it every day without fail. Taking rest days between exercise days breaks up the pattern that creates habits

I find it important to reward myself after exercise with a healthy snack that I enjoy, some downtime that involves reading interesting articles on my phone, or a nice cup of coffee. By putting those pleasures at the immediate end of my exercise, I develop a strong association between the exercise and the good feelings. It forms a habit.

Your best option is to be selfish

Your best option is to be selfish, because being stupid or a burden on society won’t help anyone. Society hopes you will handle your selfishness with some grace and compassion. If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society. Successful people generally don’t burden the world. Corporate raiders, overpaid CEOs, and tyrannical dictators are the exceptions. Most successful people give more than they personally consume, in the form of taxes, charity work, job creation, and so on.

Selfish successful people don’t cause worry and stress for those who care about them. As a selfish successful person, you can be a role model for others. Selfish successful people can be fun company if they’ve squirreled away all they need and have no complaints to voice.

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. If you neglect your health or your career, you slip into the second category—stupid—which is a short slide to becoming a burden on society.

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.

It’s useful to think of your priorities in terms of concentric circles, like an archery target. In the center is your highest priority: you. If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other priorities. So taking care of your own health is job one. The next ring—and your second-biggest priority—is economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house

If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country. Once you are both healthy and financially sound, it’s time for the third ring: family, friends, and lovers. 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.

The next rings are your local community, your country, and the world, in that order. Don’t bother trying to fix the world until you get the inner circles of your priorities under control.

Energy as a guiding principle

We humans want many things: good health, financial freedom, accomplishment, a great social life, love, sex, recreation, travel, family, career, and more. The problem with all of this wanting is that the time you spend chasing one of those desires is time you can’t spend chasing any of the others. So how do you organize your limited supply of time to get the best result? 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. Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps.

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. When I talk about increasing your personal energy, I don’t mean the frenetic, caffeine-fueled, bounce-off-the-walls type of energy. I’m talking about a calm, focused energy. To others it will simply appear that you are in a good mood. And you will be.

Consciously condition yourself (to be happier, more productive etc..)

You know from experience that you do better work, and you more enjoy life, when your attitude is good. If you could control your attitude directly, as opposed to letting the environment dictate how you feel on any given day, it would be like a minor superpower. 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.

A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts. If your life doesn’t provide you with plenty of happy thoughts to draw upon, try daydreaming of wonderful things in your future. Don’t worry that your daydreams are unlikely to come true. The power of daydreaming is similar to the power of well-made movies that can make you cry or make you laugh. Your body and your mind will respond automatically to whatever images you spend the most time pondering.

The easiest way to manage your attitude is to consume as much feel-good entertainment as you can

Smiling makes you feel better even if your smile is fake. This is the clearest example of how your brain has a user interface. When you’re in a bad mood, the physical act of forcing a smile may trigger the feel-good chemistry in your brain that is associated with happines

Your brain takes some of its cues from what your body is doing. My experience is that when I sit in a position I associate with relaxation, such as slumping on the couch, my brain will start the lazy relaxation subroutine. But if I sit with good posture, both feet on the floor, it seems that my body signals to my brain that it’s time to concentrate on work. Consistency might be more important than the specific position you choose. If you train yourself to do deep concentration when sitting on the couch with your laptop, that might become a good place for you to work. Just don’t make the mistake of using the same sitting position for work that you use for relaxation. If the couch is where you like to nap or watch television, it will probably be a poor place for doing serious work.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to dedicate certain sitting positions and certain work spaces to work and other spaces to relaxation or play. That makes your physical environment a sort of user interface for your brain, and it becomes a way to manipulate your energy levels and concentration. To change how you feel, and how you think, you can simply change where you are sitting. This is the sort of idea you’re likely to dismiss as unimportant unless you try it yourself for an extended time

I’ve also discovered that acting confident makes you feel more confident. Feeling energetic makes you want to play a sport, but playing a sport will also make you feel energetic. Loving someone makes you want to have sex, but having sex also releases the bonding chemicals that make you feel love. High testosterone can help you win a competition, but winning a competition can also sometimes raise your testosterone.2 Being tired makes you want to lie down, but lying down when you are rested can put you in the mood for a nap. Feeling hungry can make you want to eat simple carbs, but eating simple carbs can make you feel hungry.

▪ Understanding this two-way causation is highly useful for boosting your personal energy.

Manage your illusions wisely

My main point about perceptions is that you shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway. If I had to bet my life, I’d say humans are more like my dog trying to use psychic powers on me to play fetch than we are like enlightened creatures that understand their environment at a deep level.

The process of writing this book is a good example of what I’m talking about. Writing a book is hard work—far harder than most people imagine, and you probably imagine it to be plenty hard. The way I motivate myself to take on a task this large is by imagining that I have fascinating and useful things to say that will help people. The reality might be quite different. I can’t see the future, so I have the option of imagining it in whatever way gives me the greatest utility. I choose to imagine that the book will do well because that illusion is highly motivating. It increases my energy.

But because of my imaginary future in which the book is enjoyed by millions, I’m able to find great satisfaction in writing it. No matter what reality delivers in the future, my imagined version of the future has great usefulness today. Free yourself from the shackles of an oppressive reality. What’s real to you is what you imagine and what you feel. If you manage your illusions wisely, you might get what you want, but you won’t necessarily understand why it worked.

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