Book Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the controversial creator of Dilbert, has created a living building systems that allow him to succeed. In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Adams discusses his own personal systems that allow him to keep falling upward.

I think this is the type of book that would have been incredibly helpful to me 5 or 10 years ago. I am very much a systems focused person—so this book was validation more than anything. There’s a post sitting in drafts for my personal site about this very topic.

There are some other interesting opinions in this book. For example, I wasn’t expecting several chapters of a cartoonist talking about diet

Passion is bullshit

Most people think passion causes success, it’s usually the other way round.

Systems over goals

Goals are for losers and systems are for winners.

This is perhaps the most interesting part of this book to me. Like Adams, I am very focused on developing systems that help me scale my activities. He is more harsh on goals than I am. I see goals as the end-game and systems are just the best way to achieve those goals.

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 system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavors. 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.

Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success 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. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

Be selfish

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.

Generous people take care of their own needs first. Adams argues doing so is a moral necessity. The world needs you at your best.

Maximize your personal energy

Much of Adam’s thoughts on systems, diets and working out are all geared towards maximizing personal energy. I think part of his obsessiveness with simplification is focused on preserving energy.

It’s a modern day take on Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

Final thoughts

Whatever you make of Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is a solid book. It’s probably not for everyone. However, as generalist advice for college students or people early on in their careers, I’d say it’s a valuable read.

Favorite quotes

Adams mentions over and over that he focuses on simplification, not optimization. I think many of his better quotes reflect that.

Eat right, exercise, think positively, learn as much as possible, and stay out of jail, and good things can happen.

Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.