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

The 6 filters for truth

  1. Personal experience
  2. Experience of people you know
  3. Experts
  4. Scientific studies
  5. Common sense
  6. Pattern recognition

When seeking truth, best bet is to look for confirmation on at least two

3. Passion is Bullshit

  • Commercial loan officer
    • best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever
      • the grinder, not the guy who loves his job
  • Passionate people are more likely to take big risk in pursuit of unlikely goals
    • More failures and more huge successes
    • Only hear from the successful passionate people
      • writing books, answering interviews
  • Passion feels democratic, everyone is passionate about something
  • Passion is a sexy answer that is suitably humble
  • Success causes passion more than passion causes success
  • Sometimes passion is the by-product of knowing you’ll be good at something
    • Passion as indicator of talent
  • Focus on boosting personal energy

4. Scott’s many failures

  • Good to have failures
    • Reminds me of improv - get in trouble
  • View failure as tool, not outcome
  • Concentrate on ideas I can execute
    • World has too many good ideas
  • It makes sense to try different things until you get the timing right by luck
  • Calendar ads: time-specific and context-sensitive
  • Ninja closet: Gift registry for kids. Wish list and also inventory of what kid already has so you don’t get repeats

6. Goals vs systems

  • Goal: specific objective that you either achieve or don’t some point in the future
  • System: something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run
    • It should work more often than not
  • Job seeking is an ongoing process. The best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready
  • The new job simply has to be better than the last one and allows you to learn something useful for the next hop
    • That’s capitalism. Employers have no problem firing people
  • Goal-oriented people live in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary
    • Celebrate once you achieve your goal but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose
    • Friend chose a field that allowed him to sell a service that auto-renews
      • Accurately identified his skill set and chose a system that vastly increased his odds of getting lucky

7. Adam’s system

  • Got to where he was by ignoring advice of older people and experts
    • Dad told him to join Postal Service
    • High school guidance counselor was useless
    • Stayed in school against doctor’s advice
  • System he outlined when he graduated from Hartwick
    • Create something that had value and was easy to reproduce in unlimited quantities
      • Didn’t want to sell his time directly
      • Pretty much guaranteed a string of failures
    • Good to have at least a general strategy and some degree of focus

8. Corporate career fizzled

  • Kept on getting promoted to better-paying jobs even though he had no qualifications
  • Looking good on paper was his best skill
  • After he left for Pacific Bell, everyone in his dept at the bank got acqui-fired
  • Diversity ceiling happened at both bank and Pacific Bell

9. Deciding vs wanting

  • If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.
    • Once you decide, you take action
    • Wishing starts in the mind and generally stays there
  • Price could be:
    • Sacrificing personal life to get good grades
    • Pursuing boring but lucrative major
    • Putting off having kids
    • Missing time with family
    • Taking risks that put you at risk for bankruptcy
  • Success always has price, but picking the right system can bring the price to acceptable levels for you

10. Selfishness Illusion

Three kinds of people:

1. Selfish
2. Stupid
3. Burden on others
  • If you handle selfishness right, automatically become a net benefit to society
    • Successful people don’t generally burden the world
      • Give in form of taxes, charity work, job creation, etc
  • Enlightened selfishness
    • Spending time on your fitness
    • Eating right
    • Pursuing your career
    • Spending quality time with family and friends
  • We cheat our own future by appearing generous today
  • Once he started making more money than he would ever spend, it changed his priorities
    • Thoughts turned away from material goods and towards helping make the world a better place
    • Take care of your needs first, then family, then tribe (city, country, world, etc)

11. Energy metric

  • One main metric - energy
    • Make choices that maximize personal energy because it makes it easier to manage all other priorities
    • This means:
      • Eating right
      • Exercising
      • Avoiding unnecessary stress
      • Getting enough sleep
      • Having something in life that makes me excited to get up
  • By becoming a person with good energy, you lift the people around you
  • Scott didn’t seem to have a problem with managing energy when he was working full-time
    • I feel like I would be wiped if I was working plus doing side projects and getting exercise
  • Matching mental state to activity
    • Scott creates cartoons in the morning, exercise in the afternoon, mindless tasks in the afternoon (tracing final art or paying bills)
    • Before he had the privilege of a flexible schedule: went to bed early and woke up at 4 am to do side projects.
      • He wasn’t a morning person before.
      • Once you get used to it, will get more accomplished by the time other people wake up than most people accomplish all day
  • Simplifiers vs optimizers
    • Simplifier: prefers easy way to accomplish task, knows some extra effort might have produced a better outcome
    • Optimizer: Looks for very best solution even if the extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems
    • If the situation involves communication with others, simplification is almost always the right answer
    • If the task is something you can do by yourself or a partner on the same wavelength as you, optimizing might be a better path if you can control most variables
    • Simple systems are easier to follow
      • Easier to manage and control
  • Dilbert was designed to be simple to create
    • Not focused on the art, can keep it minimal
    • Font created out of handwriting
    • Draws with Cintiq, no scanning required
  • Optimized systems have more opportunities for failure
  • Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value
    • Successful people and businesses have the luxury of being able to optimize toward perfection over time
  • Sitting position
    • Train brain to associate posture with work
    • Make your physical environment a user interface for your brain: to change how you feel and think, simply change where you are sitting.
  • Tidiness
    • Every second looking at a messy room and thinking about fixing it is a distraction from more important thoughts
    • Inviting people over will motivate you to keep things tidy
  • Knowledge and lack thereof
    • Fear that you don’t know how to do the stuff required for ideal career
    • Flash research - just Google it
    • millions of people have had the same question that you did
    • Problems are often caused by bad decisions, lack of skill, and bad luck
      • Lack of information wasn’t usually a factor
  • Don’t be an asshole
    • Wasted effort cleaning up after conflicts you’ve created
  • Priorities
    1. Highest priority is myself
      • Taking care of health is job #1
    2. Economics
      • If this isn’t working, placing a burden on everyone from family to country
    3. Family, friends, lovers
    4. Local community, country, world
      • Don’t bother trying to fix the world until you get the inner circles of priorities under control
    5. Problem is that priorities overlap and conflict
      • Metric is judging how each option will influence personal energy
        • Right choices will usually charge you up
        • Literally feels right
    6. Priorities doesn’t mean in terms of what you love the most
      • Priorities are the things you need to get right so the things you love can thrive

12. Managing your attitude

  • Learn to control attitude directly
    • thoughts
    • body
    • environment
  • Humans are moist robots that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the UI
    • Exercise, food, and sleep are first buttons to push
    • Imagination is interface to attitude, imagine yourself to higher levels of energy
    • Smiling will make you happy
  • Work on projects that have a chance of changing world, helping humanity, and/or making a billion dollars
  • Make lots of contacts through failure
  • Get good at something, anything
    • Understand how long it takes to be that good, understand what winning feels like
  • Pick the delusion that works
    • What’s real to you is what you imagine and what you feel

18. Recognizing talents and knowing when to quit

  • Combinations of ordinary talents that add up to something extraordinary
    • Think about what you obsessively did as a kid
  • Comfort as marker for talent
  • What things are you willing to take a risk for in an otherwise risk-averse lifestyle
    • Actors often willingly to risk embarrassment as kids performing in random places
  • As you grow and acquire talents, potential paths to success multiply
    • Makes it hard to know which possibility among many puts you at competitive advantage
  • Stay or quit
    • Things that someday work out well often start out well
      • has the x-factor
      • first Dilbert TV pilot: better to have rabid enthusiasm of a niche population than average response
  • What does audience do with product?
    • People would stick comic on fridge or cubicle, send to friends
    • People say what they think they want you to hear

19. Is Practice Your Thing?

  • People born with natural impulse to practice vs those who want immediate reward
    • Craft life plan that embraces your natural inclinations
      • Things that reward novelty: architect, designer, home builder, computer programmers, entrepreneur, website designer
        • Requires disciplined study, but every class is different
        • Skills increase with experience, whereas practice is repetitive
          • “Putting your consciousness in suspended animation”
          • “Practicing is not living”

20. Managing your Odds for Success

  • Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success
    • Good + Good > Excellent
    • Simplicity of formula trumps accuracy
      • Guides your behavior in the right direction
      • e.g. when writing resume, are there any words you’d be willing to remove for $100 each?
  • Adams argues that magical pursuit of excellence is one approach, probably the hardest
    • Quantity beats quality in his mind
  • The more you know, the more you can know
    • Easier to learn new things when you’re always learning and discovering new frameworks

21. Math of Success

  • Move to a game with better odds
  • Don’t confuse the benefits of persistence with the actual odds of succeeding
  • See world as math, not magic
    • If you’re in a state of constant failure, there’s probably a pattern
  • Public speaking
    • Dale Carnegie courses
      • Didn’t classify self as a speaking course
      • Only positive reinforcement allowed
      • Have to volunteer to go next
    • I get to speak, to feel, to be fully alive
      • Absorb and turn their energy into something good
      • Importance of honest praise
        • Adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring constant streams of criticism
        • “Wow. That was brave.” switched focus from student’s poor speaking performance to her bravery to even get up
          • Positivity changes brain and people around you
          • Nearest thing we have to magic.
    • We don’t have accurate view of our own potential
  • Psychology
    • Quality is not an independent force; it depends on your frame of reference
    • Audiences tend to make irrational comparisons
    • Side note: animated shows take longer to tune because writers can’t know what worked until fully animated and too late to change. Usually takes until 3rd season
    • Success and hypnotism: do more of what works and less of what doesn’t
    • Hypnosis goes back to idea of humans as programmable, provide right inputs to get outputs you want
      • Reason is not driver of behavior
        • Car example
          • Once wife and him saw it, brain made up mind before any reasoning was done
          • Everything after that point was either good or good enough
      • Useful to know when people are using reason when they are rationalizing the irrational
        • Reason doesn’t have much of a role in voting decisions, even when voters know a lie is a lie
  • Business Writing
    • Getting to the point and leaving out all noise
    • Active voice
  • Accounting
    • Create cash-flow projection on spreadsheet
    • Understand tax impacts, time value of money
  • Design
    • rule of three
    • L-shaped layout
      • Leave less clutter in one of four quadrants (negative space)
  • Conversation
    • same Dale Carnegie course as above
    • Introduce yourself and ask questions until you find mutual interest
      • FORD (family, occupation, recreation, dreams)
    • Make their job easy by getting them to talk about themselves
      • Make them feel good
    • Master telling short but interesting stories
      • Platform-tilt, punchline or button at end
        • Keep setup brief, introduce foreshadowing
  • Overcoming shyness
    • Imagine you are acting instead of interacting
    • Thing people enjoy hearing about new tech or possessions, enjoy discussing processes or systems (like politics)
    • People people enjoy conversations that involve humans doing interesting things
  • Golf
    • Allows adult men to bond
    • Golf transports brain to another dimension for hours
  • Persuasion
    • Persuasive words and phrases
      • Because
        • People more cooperative when ask with a favor that includes “because”
        • Signals reasonableness, which allows people to drop their defenses
      • Would you mind...?
        • Shows concern for other person
      • I’m not interested
        • Stop others from trying to persuade you
        • No argument can be used against a lack of interest
      • I don’t do that
        • Just sounds like a hard-and-fast rule
      • I have a rule...
        • Good in situations where honesty won’t work
        • Sounds convincing and polite while offering no reason whatsoever
      • I just wanted to clarify...
        • Better than a direct assault on a person’s plan
      • Is there anything you can do for me?
        • Need to persuade someone to go above and beyond the rules
      • Thank you
        • Be specific
      • This is just between you and me
        • People automatically label you as friend if you share secret
        • Share small secrets to start off with
        • Make sure person is actually keeping secret
    • Decisiveness looks like leadership
      • People crave certainty
    • Energy
      • Enthusiasm is contagious
    • Insanity
      • Introduce an emotional dimension to discussion
        • Can’t be talked out of it because emotions don’t bend to reason
  • Proper voice technique
    • keep distance between fun voice and persuasive voice
      • be able to send unambiguous signal that the topic is important and you might not be open to negotiating
    • Commanding voice is correlated with success
    • Humming first part of “Happy Birthday” makes normal voice sound strangely smooth for a bit
      • Good to find a target voice to practice

22. Pattern Recognition

  • Knowing patterns changes how you think about your chances
  • Steven Covey’s 7 habits
  • Lack of fear of embarrassment
  • The right kind of education
    • Unemployment rate for engineers is nearly zero
    • Education complements psychological bravery
      • If you don’t have much of one, can compensate with a lot of the other
  • Exercise
  • Treat success as a learnable skill
    • Figure out what they need and they go and get it

24. Affirmations

  • Interested in affirmations as a process of improving focus
  • They are useful and I have no idea why
  • Seem to be correlation that the things he really wanted to do were the things that he said affirmations for
    • Only when there was a 100% unambiguous desire for success

25. Timing is Luck Too

  • World as a slot machine that takes time, focus, and energy as input
  • A machine that has rare yet certain payoffs and asks for no money upfront is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky.

29. Association Programming

  • Intern had idea that success is about moving into fanciest neighborhood possible
    • Become rich by association

30. Happiness

  • Like gardening - need to know nuances of mechanisms behind it
  • Definition: when your body chemistry is producing pleasant sensations in your mind
  • Not dependent on circumstances
  • Control body chemistry through lifestyle
    • Continually work towards having control of your schedule
      • Being able to do what you want, when you want
      • Timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of things
      • Timing is easier to control than resources
      • Better to be a person with a flexible schedule and average resources than a rich person with everything but
      • e.g. kids remove all flexibility from a parent’s schedule
    • More to do with where you’re heading than where you are
      • Tend to feel happy when things are moving in the right direction and unhappy if otherwise
      • Good idea to have a sport or hobby that leaves room for improvement every year
      • When choosing career, consider whether it will lead to lifetime of ever-improved performance, a plateau, or a steady decline in skills
    • Imagination
      • If you can imagine your future being brighter, it lifts your energy
      • Expect the future to be good
    • Exercise, diet, sleep
  • Reduce daily decisions to routine

31. Diet

  • Manipulate your cravings
  • Notice patterns of which foods make you feel which ways
  • Scott’s experience
    • Peanuts high in fat so they satisfy appetite
    • Pasta doesn’t make him sleepy but white rice does
  • Food is fuel that makes exercise possible
  • Reduce the amount of willpower it requires to eat right and exercise
    • Program yourself to make the right choices and you’ll have the energy and be more inclined to do the right things
  • Butter on broccoli tastes good and the fat suppresses appetite
  • Vegetarian
    • Getting protein not that hard
      • Edamame
      • Nuts
      • Protein bars (whey)
      • Cheese
      • Protein shakes
  • Coffee
    • Higher highs and lower lows
    • Tradeoffs
      • Addiction to caffeine
      • Can make you jittery
    • Scott thinks its worth it

32. Fitness

  • Simplify to: be active every day
  • Any exercise that requires willpower is unsustainable
  • The right amount of exercise today is whatever amount makes me look forward to being active tomorrow
  • Exercise becomes a habit when you do it every day without fail
    • No rest days
  • Reward right after exercise to develop association between exercise and good feelings
  • When feeling unmotivated, put on exercise clothes and sneakers as a trigger
    • Grant self permission not to exercise
    • System allows for leakage (deciding not to go after driving to gym), know that it works overall
  • All that matters is long run you made exercise a daily habit
  • Don’t let hair be the reason you don’t