Scott Adam's Template for Success - How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Summary

Scott has failed 36 times. All failures have something to teach you. 10% of the things he's tried has worked out really well. Most of the things he tried were high risk/high reward kind of things, so he expected a high failure rate. However, one thing that did work out for him was the Dilbert comic.

His book 'How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life' focuses on three core ideas.

1) Goals are for losers - Use Systems
2) Passion is overrated - Get Energy
3) Luck can be manipulated  - Change the Game


In today's complicated world, having a goal is sort of like being on a horse with a bow and arrow shooting a target in the fog and at the same time the target is moving. Sometimes you'll hit the target. But, in this complicated world, the odds are not that good that you would hit the target. When you focused on a goal, you limit yourself. Maybe there are things that you you'll miss by focusing on that goal. Instead Scott Adams suggest that you create a system. A system is something you do regularly that improves your odds and makes you more valuable. Thereby, in the long run the odds of success will be in your favor.

What is a System vs. a Goal?

Scott Adams gave an example of himself and his friend Manuel. Both of them liked girls. Adam's approach was goal oriented. He would find one girl that he was interested in and then try and figure out how to bump into her and what to say to her. Most times he would get rejected and that would be that. Manuel had a systems' approach, he would ask everyone in the room if they wanted to be his girlfriend. Every time he went through his process, he was learning to take rejection and what the best pick-up lines were. Manuel was becoming more valuable as he went no matter what happened.

A friend of Scott's would interview for jobs that he didn't want. Basically jobs that would pay less than he was making now and/or be in lower positions. His friend used it as practice and every time he would improve as an interviewer. At the end of one of the interview, the interviewer said that his friend was overqualified for the job, but the head of the department just left that role would be great for him.


Complementary skills improve your odds of success. You don't have to be the worlds best, you just need to have a working facility of it. For example, Scott was a mediocre artist, not even the funniest person in any given room, not a great writer; but when you combine the skills together, he created the Dilbert empire.

What is the difference between the diet goal and a system? Suppose the goal is to lose ten pounds. Resist the cookie will be difficult. In a system, you could replace willpower with something such as knowledge. For example, most people know that vegetables are more healthy then cake. Now suppose you go to a salad bar and see pasta and white potato; which one would you choose to be healthier. Pasta is healthier and knowledge would let you know that is what you should pick. Learning over time which type of flavoring to make your food taste better is better than resisting foods. Eventually the flavoring and seasoning of your healthy foods will be up to the level or near that of bad foods.

Replace willpower with habits. Habits can be built by doing something on a daily basis every day and giving yourself a reward at the end. If you can't do a full workout, underdo it and do half that way it always feels good and it builds a habit. 

Get energy instead of being "passionate".

If successful people didn't attribute their success to passion, what else could they say about having passion? "I'm smarter than poor people." "I did some insider trader that how I got started." "I was lucky". There isn't a good answer. The winner of American Idols all have passion. Well, have you not seen entire stadiums of people in the first couple weeks? It looked like everyone was passionate. If you go by the numbers, passion is more correlated with failure than success. In the formula for success, if you pick out passion, everything would be the same. Instead of passion, boast your energy and systems. Be physically and mentally alert to power through things you need to. You also end up liking or "having passion" for things that you are good at. In order to be good at things, you'll need to practice and put in the work. 

Luck is the elephant in the room. 

Luck can be manipulated. Getting lucky is like being struck by lighting. You can increase the odds by being outdoors in the rainstorm. In addition, you could hold a lighting rods. You can't directly control luck, but you can move to game of bad odds to better odds. People who considered themselves lucky or were more positive had a wider field of perception. They would note opportunities that other people wouldn't see. 

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