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

Passion Is Bullshit

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 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.

Goals Versus Systems

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.

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

Deciding Versus Wanting

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard goes something like this: 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 Selfishness Illusion

When it comes to the topic of generosity, there are three kinds of people in the world:

  • Selfish

  • Stupid

  • Burden on others

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. 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 pursue your selfish objectives, and you do it well, someday your focus will turn outward. It's an extraordinary feeling.

The Energy Metric

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. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up. When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my work is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track. And when all of that is working, and I feel relaxed and energetic, my personal life is better too.

One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task. For example, when I first wake up, my brain is relaxed and creative. I know from experience that trying to be creative in the midafternoon is a waste of time.

Simplifiers Versus Optimizers

Some people are what I call simplifiers and some are optimizers. A simplifier will prefer the easy way to accomplish a task, while knowing that some amount of extra effort might have produced a better outcome. An optimizer looks for the very best solution even if the extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems. Optimizing is often the strategy of people who have specific goals and feel the need to do everything in their power to achieve them. Simplifying is generally the strategy of people who view the world in terms of systems. 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. When you are trying to decide between optimizing and simplifying, think of your entire day, not the handful of tasks in question. In other words, maximize your personal energy, not the number of tasks.

Managing Your Attitude

  • Consume as much feel-good entertainment as you can.

  • Work on projects that have a real chance of changing the world, helping humanity, and/or making a billion dollars. I try to have one or more change-the-world projects going at all times. Don't worry if your idea is a long shot. That's not what matters right now. Today you want to daydream of your idea being a huge success so you can enjoy the feeling. Let your ideas for the future fuel your energy today. No matter what you want to do in life, higher energy will help you get there. Another benefit of having a big, world-changing project is that you almost always end up learning something valuable in the process of failing. And fail you will, most of the time, so long as you are dreaming big. But remember, goals are for losers anyway. It's smarter to see your big-idea projects as part of a system to improve your energy, contacts, and skills. From that viewpoint, if you have a big, interesting project in the works, you're a winner every time you wake up.

The Power of Smiling

Smiling makes you feel better even if your smile is fake. The next time you're in a gloomy mood, try smiling at a stranger you pass on the street. You'll be surprised how many people reflexively return the smile, and if you smile often enough, eventually that cue will boot up the happiness subroutine in your brain and release the feel-good chemicals you desire. As a bonus, smiling makes you more attractive to others. When you're more attractive, people respond to you with more respect and consideration, more smiles, and sometimes even lust.

Pick the Delusion That Works

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. When you can release on your ego long enough to view your perceptions as incomplete or misleading, it gives you the freedom to imagine new and potentially more useful ways of looking at the world.

Knowing When to Quit

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. My guideline for deciding when to quit is informed by a lifetime of trying dozens of business ideas, most of them failures. The pattern I noticed was this: Things that will someday work out well start out well. Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way.

The enthusiasm model, if I may call it that, is a bit like the x factor. It's the elusive and hard-to-predict quality of a thing that makes some percentage of the public nuts about it. When the x factor is present, the public--or some subset of the public--picks up on it right away. For the excited few, the normal notions of what constitutes quality don't apply. In time, the products that inspire excitement typically evolve to have quality too. Quality is one of the luxuries you can afford when the marketplace is spraying money in your direction and you have time to tinker. One of the best ways to detect the x factor is to watch what customers do about your idea or product, not what they say. People tend to say what they think you want to hear or what they think will cause the least pain. What people do is far more honest. If the first commercial version of your work excites no one to action, it's time to move on to something different. Don't be fooled by the opinions of friends and family. They're all liars. If your work inspires some excitement and some action from customers, get ready to chew through some walls. You might have something worth fighting for.

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

When you accept without necessarily believing that each new skill doubles your odds of success, you effectively hack (trick) your brain to be more proactive in your pursuit of success. Looking at the familiar in new ways can change your behavior even when the new point of view focuses on the imaginary. 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 future is thoroughly unpredictable when it comes to your profession and your personal life ten years out. 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.

Skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge:

  • Public speaking

  • Psychology

  • Business writing

  • Accounting

  • Design (the basics)

  • Conversation

  • Second language

  • Golf

  • Proper grammar

  • Persuasion

  • Technology (hobby level)

  • Proper voice technique

  • Overcoming shyness: When I fake my way past my natural shyness, I like to imagine a specific confident person I know well. I do my bad impression of that person. The single best tip for avoiding shyness involves harnessing the power of acting interested in other people. You don't want to cross into nosiness, but everyone appreciates it when you show interest. You should also try to figure out which people are thing people and which ones are people people. I also recommend exercising your ego the way you'd exercise any other muscle. Try putting yourself in situations that will surely embarrass you if things go wrong, or maybe even if they don't. Like any other skill, suppressing shyness takes practice. The more you put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations, the easier they all become.


The happiness formula: Eat right. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Imagine an incredible future (even if you don't believe it). Work toward a flexible schedule. Do things you can steadily improve at. Help others (if you've already helped yourself). Reduce daily decisions to routine.


Whether you are a born optimist or you become one through affirmations, prayer, or positive thinking, you end up with several advantages that make it easier for luck to find you. Optimists notice more opportunities, have more energy because of their imagined future successes, and take more risks. Optimists make themselves an easy target for luck to find them. I would argue that doing affirmations is a system that helps you focus, boosts your optimism and energy, and perhaps validates the talent and drive that your subconscious always knew you had.