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How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big Book Summary, Review, Notes

How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big is a personal story of how a mediocre person with a mediocre set of skills can still win big. The creator of comic Dilbert, Scott Adams, leads us through his life’s story of failure that eventually led to his success.

Book Title: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
Author: Scott Adams
Date of Reading: September, 2018
Rating: 8/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:


How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big covers the life story of Scott Adams and leads us through his college years, experience in the corporate sector, his business school, his medical problem of not being able to speak(!), and the creation of the famous Dilbert comic. But Adams does this with such self-deprecating humor that never goes astray. The book is divided into 37 chapters:

  • Chapter One The Time I Was Crazy
  • Chapter Two The Day of the Talk
  • Chapter Three Passion Is Bullshit
  • Chapter Four Some of My Many Failures in Summary Form
  • Chapter Five My Absolute Favorite Spectacular Failure
  • Chapter Six Goals Versus Systems
  • Chapter Seven My System
  • Chapter Eight My Corporate Career Fizzled
  • Chapter Nine Deciding Versus Wanting
  • Chapter Ten The Selfishness Illusion
  • Chapter Eleven The Energy Metric
  • Chapter Twelve Managing Your Attitude
  • Chapter Thirteen It’s Already Working
  • Chapter Fourteen My Pinkie Goes Nuts
  • Chapter Fifteen My Speaking Career
  • Chapter Sixteen My Voice Problem Gets a Name
  • Chapter Seventeen The Voice Solution That Didn’t Work
  • Chapter Eighteen Recognizing Your Talents and Knowing When to Quit
  • Chapter Nineteen Is Practice Your Thing?
  • Chapter Twenty Managing Your Odds for Success
  • Chapter Twenty-one The Math of Success
  • Chapter Twenty-two Pattern Recognition
  • Chapter Twenty-three Humor
  • Chapter Twenty-four Affirmations
  • Chapter Twenty-five Timing Is Luck Too
  • Chapter Twenty-six A Few Times Affirmations Worked
  • Chapter Twenty-seven Voice Update
  • Chapter Twenty-eight Experts
  • Chapter Twenty-nine Association Programming
  • Chapter Thirty Happiness
  • Chapter Thirty-one Diet
  • Chapter Thirty-two Fitness
  • Chapter Thirty-three Voice Update 2
  • Chapter Thirty-four Luck
  • Chapter Thirty-five CalendarTree Start-up
  • Chapter Thirty-six Voice Update 3
  • Chapter Thirty-seven A Final Note About Affirmations


Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:




‘I wish I could give you a surefire formula for success, but life doesn’t work that way. What I can do is describe a model that you can compare with your current way of doing things. The right answer for you might be some combination of what you’re already doing and what you read here. You’re the best judge of what works for you, as long as you acquire that wisdom through pattern recognition, trial, and observation.”

“On top of that, I’m getting paid to write this book, and we all know that money distorts truth like a hippo in a thong. And let’s not forget I’m a stranger to most of you. It’s never a good idea to trust strangers.”

“Book Tease 1. Goals are for losers. 2. Your mind isn’t magic. It’s a moist computer you can program. 3. The most important metric to track is your personal energy. 4. Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. 5. Happiness is health plus freedom. 6. Luck can be managed, sort of. 7. Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way). 8. Fitness is the lever that moves the world. 9. Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.”

“The Six Filters for Truth 1. Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.) 2. Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.) 3. Experts (They work for money, not truth.) 4. Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.) 5. Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.) 6. Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence,and personal bias look alike.)”

“It’s not science, but it’s still an entirely useful pattern. Consistency is the best marker of truth that we have, imperfect though it may be.”

“But my observation is that a startling percentage of the adult population literally has no smart friends to help them in their quest for success and happiness. I hereby deputize myself to be your smart(ish) friend in the form of this book.” 


CHAPTER One The Time I Was Crazy


“In the spring of 2005 my doctor diagnosed me with a form of mental illness. He didn’t use those exact words, or anything like them, but he did refer me to the in-house psychologist at Kaiser, my health-care organization. I can take a hint.”

“Insanity is always a reasonable diagnosis when you’re dealing with writers and artists. Sometimes the only real difference between crazy people and artists is that artists write down what they imagine seeing”


Chapter Two The Day of the Talk


“I’d given a hundred similar talks. On some level, every speaking event was the same: Sign the contract. Book a flight. Show up. Make small talk with the organizers. Hit the stage. Make people laugh. Sign some autographs. Pose for pictures. Rush to a waiting car service. Ride to the airport. Fly home.”

I waited for the applause to stop. And when it did, I waited a little longer, as I had learned. When you stand in front of an audience, your sensation of time is distorted. That’s why inexperienced presenters speak too rapidly.” 


Chapter Three Passion Is Bullshit


“You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.”

“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.” 

“On the other hand, Dilbert started out as just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try. When it started to look as if it might be a success, my passion for cartooning increased because I realized it could be my golden ticket. 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.”


Chapter Four Some of My Many Failures in Summary Form


“admit that I’ve failed at more challenges than anyone I know. There’s a nonzero chance that reading this book will set you on the path of your own magnificent screwups and cavernous disappointments. You’re welcome! And if I forgot to mention it earlier, that’s exactly where you want to be: steeped to your eyebrows in failure. It’s a good place to be because failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.” 

“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. If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertilizer again.* Failure is a resource that can be managed.” 

“Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas. From that point on, I concentrated on ideas I could execute. I was already failing toward success, but I didn’t yet know it.”

“My first attempt at professional cartooning involved sending some single-panel comics to the two magazines that paid the most: Playboy and the New Yorker. The comics were dreadful. Both magazines wisely rejected them.” 


Chapter Five My Absolute Favorite Spectacular Failure


“As I struggled to stay upright and keep moving, I made myself a promise: If I lived, I would trade my piece-of-shit car for a one-way plane ticket to California and never see another f@$#!#& snowflake for the rest of my life.”

“A few months later, I kept my promise to myself. I traded my car to my sister for a one-way plane ticket to the vibrant economy and easy climate of northern California. It was the smartest decision I ever made. The experience of nearly dying in the frozen tundra of upstate New York inspired me to move to California. Thank you, failure. I no longer fear death when I go outdoors.”


Chapter Six Goals Versus Systems


“Throughout my career I’ve had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.”

“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 pre success failure.”


Scott Adams Quote: “It’s not science, but it’s still an entirely useful pattern. Consistency is the best marker of truth that we have, imperfect though it may be.”


“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.” 

“Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction.” 


Chapter Seven My System


“I learned by observation that people who pursued extraordinarily unlikely goals were overly optimistic at best, delusional at worst, and just plain stupid most of the time.”

“My first choice, Cornell, had two factors working against it. The first was a tragic men-to-women ratio that guaranteed I would graduate a virgin. The other was that I applied too late and missed its deadline. Cornell informed me that I was on its wait list. My only chance of getting into that school was if some sort of fast-moving plague killed all of the people who knew there was a deadline for applying.”

“Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Hartwick had several things going for it. It was a one-hour drive from home, so travel would be affordable. It had a well-respected nursing major, so there were more women than men. And it accepted me. It was my only option.” 

“(Full disclosure: Attending a college with a favorable malefemale ratio turned out to be genius.)” 

“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.” 

“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” 


Chapter Eight My Corporate Career Fizzled


“The senior vice president told me that my suggestions for improving the bank were underwhelming, but he liked my sense of humor, and because of that he had a hunch about my potential. A month later I started the management training program. Somehow I had failed my way to a much better job.” 

“In my eight years at the bank, I was incompetent at one job after another.” 

“It seemed as if my only valuable skill were interviewing for the next job. I got hired for almost every job I pursued in the bank, and each was a promotion and a raise. It was starting to seem as if I might be able to interview my way to some sort of senior executive position in which no one would notice I was totally skill free. That was my hope.” 

“My banking career ended when my boss called me into her office and informed me that the order had come down to stop promoting white males.” 

“My boss’s boss’s boss called me into his office and explained that the order had come down to stop promoting white males. Pacific Bell had a diversity problem, and it might take years to fix it, if it was ever fixed. My bid for upper management at Pacific Bell was officially a failure.” 


Chapter Nine 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. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power.” 

“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.” 


Chapter Ten The Selfishness Illusion


“For starters, when it comes to the topic of generosity, there are three kinds of people in the world: 1. Selfish 2. Stupid 3. Burden on others” 

Successful people generally don’t burden the world. Corporate raiders, overpaid CEOs, and tyrannical dictators are the exceptions.”

“My best estimate is that I will personally consume about 10 percent of the total wealth I create over my career. The rest goes to taxes, future generations, start-up investments, charity, and stimulating the economy.” 

“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.” 

“I’m sure you already want to be fit and successful and happy. You already want to skip some of your chores at home or at work to take care of your own needs. I’m simply your cartoonist friend telling you that generous people take care of their own needs first. In fact, doing so is a moral necessity. The world needs you at your best.”

“One of the more interesting surprises for me when I started making more money than I would ever spend is that it automatically changed my priorities. I could afford any car I Wanted, but suddenly I didn’t care so much about my possessions beyond the utility they provided.” 

“Apparently humans are wired to take care of their own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world, roughly in that order.” 


Chapter Eleven The Energy Metric


“Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps.”

“As I write this paragraph, my wife and our good friends are wondering why I’m selfishly lagging behind and not meeting them for an afternoon of sitting in the sun. I’ll get there soon. And when I do, I’ll feel energized and satisfied and be far more fun to be around. No one will think worse of me in the long run for being thirty minutes behind for a full day of fun that they have already started. But everyone will appreciate that I’m in a better mood when I show up. That’s the trade-off. Like capitalism, some forms of selfishness are enlightened.” 

“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. You might wince at the fact that I put economics ahead of your family, your friends, and the rest of the world, but there’s a reason. If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.”


Chapter Twelve Managing Your Attitude


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

“You might be thinking this is all well and good for famous authors and cartoonists, but ordinary people don’t have many chances to change the world. I disagree. Ideas change the world routinely, and most of those ideas originate from ordinary people.” 

“try hanging around friends who are naturally funny. Equally important, avoid friends who are full-time downers. You want friends with whom you can share both the good and the bad, but you aren’t a therapist. Walk away from the soul suckers. You have a right to pursue happiness and an equal right to run as fast as you can from the people who would deny it.” 

“The same was true for Scrabble, Ping-Pong, and tennis. I’m better than 99 percent of the world* in each of those games because I put in more practice time than 99 percent of the world. There’s no magic to it.” 

“We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and having a wildly inaccurate first impression, which in turn drives the way we act. Later, once you know more about the person, you start behaving differently. The external reality doesn’t change, but your point of view does. In many cases, it’s your point of view that influences your behavior, not the universe. And you can control your point of view even when you can’t change the underlying reality.” 


Chapter Thirteen It’s Already Working 


“You already passed the first filter for success. By reading this book you’ve established yourself as a seeker of knowledge. Seekers obviously find more stuff than the people who sit and wait. Your decision to read this book is confirmation that you are a person of action who has a desire to be more effective. I’m reinforcing that thought to help lock it in.”

“So congratulations on being a person who studies the mechanics of success. It’s a bigger deal than you might realize.”


Chapter Fourteen My Pinkie Goes Nuts


“Realistically, what were my odds of being the first person on earth to beat a focal dystonia? One in a million? One in ten million? I didn’t care. That one person was going to be me.Thanks to my odd life experiences, and odder genes, I’m wired to think things will work out well for me no matter how unlikely it might seem.”

“Over the next several weeks I noticed I could hold my pen to paper for a full second before feeling the onset of a pinkie spasm. Eventually it was two seconds, then five. One day, after I trained myself to hold pen to paper for several seconds without a spasm, my brain suddenly and unexpectedly rewired itself and removed the dystonia altogether. Apparently I broke the spasm cycle and reinforced the non spasm association.”

“And so I was the first person in the world to cure a focal dystonia, at least as far as I know. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about that, since I can’t know what everyone else is doing or what worked for them. Still, it was an unlikely result.”


Chapter Fifteen My Speaking Career


“The Canadian woman suggested that I give her a price for my services that would make it worthwhile for me. If my price was too high, at least she could take it back to her organization and say she’d tried. She made it sound as if I would be doing her a favor to come up with a price for something I didn’t want to do.”

“I put the question to him: “What should I say is my price for speaking?” I told him that I would be perfectly happy to price myself out of the job. He said, “Ask for five thousand dollars. If they say no, you avoid a trip to Canada.” I laughed at his suggestion, knowing that I wasn’t worth that kind of money. But I had my plan. I practiced saying “five thousand dollars” until I thought I could say it without laughing. I called back my Canadian contact. That conversation went like this: Canadian: “Did you come up with a price?” Me: “Yes … five thousand dollars.” Canadian: “Okay, and we’ll also pay for your first-class travel and hotel.” I flew to Canada and gave a speech.”

“I raised my price to $10,000, and the requests kept coming. I tried $15,000, and the requests accelerated. By the time I got to $25,000, the speakers’ bureaus had started to see me as a source of bigger commissions and advised me to raise my price to $35,000, then $45,000. The largest offer I ever turned down, because of a scheduling conflict, was $100,000 to speak for an hour on any topic I wanted.” 


Chapter Sixteen My Voice Problem Gets a Name


“In that case I’d lost control of my pinkie. Now I was losing control of my voice. Could the two problems be related? I entered the search string “voice dystonia” because my hand problem was called a focal dystonia. Bingo. The search popped up a video of a patient who had something called spasmodic dysphonia, a condition in which the vocal cords clench involuntarily when making certain sounds. I played the video and recognized my exact voice pattern—broken words and clipped syllables—coming out of the patient in the video. Now I had its name: spasmodic dysphonia, which I discovered is often associated with other forms of dystonia. As I learned with further research, it’s common for someone who has one type of dystonia to get another. (Luckily it doesn’t tend to progress beyond that.)” 


Chapter Seventeen The Voice Solution That Didn’t Work


“One helpful rule of thumb for knowing where you might have a little extra talent is to consider what you were obsessively doing before you were ten years old.”


Chapter Eighteen Recognizing Your Talents and Knowing When to Quit


“But when it came to comics, I eagerly accepted the risk of expulsion and great bodily harm that comes with insulting larger kids.” 

“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.”

“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.” 


Chapter Nineteen Is Practice Your Thing?


“He was fully coachable at the age of three. Some adults—maybe most—never have that capability.” 

“There’s no denying the importance of practice. The hard part is figuring out what to practice”

“When I was a kid I spent countless bored hours in my bedroom on winter nights trying to spin a basketball on one finger. Eventually I mastered that skill, only to learn later that it has no economic value.” 

“These and other skills have not served me well. It matters what you practice.” 

“All of those professions require disciplined study, but every class will be different, and later on all of your projects will be different. Your skills will increase with experience, which is the more fun cousin of practice. Practice involves putting your consciousness in suspended animation. Practicing is not living. But when you build your skills through an ever changing sequence of experiences, you’re alive.”


Chapter Twenty Managing Your Odds for Success


“The primary purpose of schools is to prepare kids for success in adulthood. That’s why it seems odd to me that schools don’t have required courses on the systems and practices of successful people.”

“The children of successful people probably learn by observation and parental coaching. But most people are not born to highly successful parents. The average kid spends almost no time around highly successful people, and certainly not during the workday, when those successful people are applying their methods.” 

“The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.” 

“The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good—not extraordinary—at more than one skill.”

“In California, for example, having one common occupational skill plus fluency in Spanish puts you at the head of the line for many types of jobs. If you’re also a skilled public speaker (good but not great) and you know your way around a PowerPoint presentation, you have a good chance of running your organization. To put the success formula into its simplest form: Good + Good > Excellent” 

“Successwise, you’re better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one. I’m ignoring the outlier possibility that you might be one of the best performers in the world at some skill or another. That can obviously be valuable too. But realistically, you wouldn’t be reading this book if you could throw a baseball a hundred miles per hour or compose hit songs in your head.” 

“When writing a résumé, a handy trick you’ll learn from experts is to ask yourself if there are any words in your first draft that you would be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each. Here’s the simple formula: Each Unnecessary Word = $100”

“As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy.”

“perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well. At social gatherings I’m usually not the funniest person in the room. My writing skills are good, not great. But what I have that most artists and cartoonists do not have is years of corporate business experience plus an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.” 

“My combined mediocre skills are worth far more than the sum of the parts.” 


Scott Adams Quote: “On a scale of one to ten, the importance of understanding psychology is a solid ten.”


“This would be a good time to tell you what kind of student I was in Berkeley’s MBA program. In my first semester I often had the lowest grades in the class. I worked hard and rose to scholastic mediocrity through brute force. In the end, all that mattered is that I learned skills that complemented my other meager talents.” 

“Recapping my skill set: I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good but not great writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet. And I have a good but not great sense of humor. I’m like one big mediocre soup. None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force.” 

“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. Imagine explaining to an extraterrestrial visitor the concept of a horse. It would take some time. If the next thing you tried to explain were the concept of a zebra, the conversation would be shorter. You would simply point out that a zebra is a lot like a horse but with black and white strips. Everything you learn becomes a shortcut for understanding something else.” 

“The Knowledge Formula: The More You Know, the More You Can Know”


Chapter Twenty-one The Math of Success


“You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from a game with low odds of success to a game with better odds. That seems like an obvious strategy and you probably think you already do it. The hard part is figuring out the odds of any given game, and that’s harder than it looks.” 

“The idea I’m promoting here is that it helps to see the world as math and not magic.”

“If you find yourself in a state of continual failure in your personal or business life, you might be blaming it on fate or karma or animal spirits or some other form of magic when the answer is simple math. There’s usually a pattern, but it might be subtle. Don’t stop looking just because you don’t see the pattern in the first seven years.” 

“The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism.” 

“Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral. If you see something that impresses you, a decent respect to humanity insists you voice your praise.”

“Quality is not an independent force in the universe; it depends on what you choose as your frame of reference.”

“This book itself presents an especially challenging comparison problem. If I add too much humor to this book, reviewers and readers will compare it with other humor books and it will come up short because many of the chapters don’t lend themselves to jokes. If I leave out all humor, the book will be compared with self-help books, which would be misleading in its own way, but I’d probably come out better in that sort of comparison. In other words, to increase your perceived enjoyment of the book, I might leave out some humor that you would otherwise enjoy.” 

“On a scale of one to ten, the importance of understanding psychology is a solid ten.”

“I no longer see reason as the driver of behavior. I see simple cause and effect, similar to the way machines operate.”

“It is tremendously useful to know when people are using reason and when they are rationalizing the irrational. You’re wasting your time if you try to make someone see reason when reason is not influencing the decision.”

“When politicians tell lies, they know the press will call them out. They also know it doesn’t matter. Politicians Understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions. A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments. That’s even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie.”

“Your reasoning can prevent you from voting for a total imbecile, but it won’t stop you from supporting a half-wit with a great haircut.” 

“Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.”

“If you’re unattractive—and this is my area of expertise—your conversation skills will be especially important” 

“I think everyone should learn how to tell a funny story. I don’t think people realize that storytelling is a learnable skill and not a genetic gift. Once you know the parts that compose any good story, you have all you need to sculpt your own out of your everyday experiences.” 

“You should also try to figure out which people are thing people and which ones are people people. Thing people enjoy hearing about new technology and other clever tools and possessions. They also enjoy discussions of processes and systems, including politics.”

“People people enjoy only conversations that involve humans doing interesting things. They get bored in a second when the conversation turns to things. Once you know whether you are dealing with a thing person or a people person, you can craft your conversation to his or her sweet spot. It makes a big difference in how people react to you, and that in turn will make you more confident and less shy” 

“Insanity: In most groups the craziest person is in control. It starts because no one wants the problems that come from pissing off a crazy person. It’s just smarter and easier sometimes to let the crazy person have his or her way.” 


Scott Adams Quote: “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.”


Sometimes you need to nudge people onto the right path even if they firmly believe it to be wrong. In some cases you have a moral obligation to be manipulative if you know it will create a good result for all involved. For example, manipulating coworkers to do better work is usually good for everyone.” 

“I’m reasonably sure that my fake voice, with its low notes and artificial confidence, made me appear more capable than I was, and that wasn’t difficult because I was largely incompetent at every corporate job I held.” 


Chapter Twenty-two Pattern Recognition


“As far as I know, Stephen Covey’s seven habits didn’t budge the poverty rate, so there are probably deeper patterns at play.”

“1. Lack of fear of embarrassment 2. Education (the right kind) 3. Exercise” 

“Then there’s education. Do you know what the unemployment rate is for engineers? It is nearly zero. Do you know how many engineers like their jobs? Most of them do, despite what you read in Dilbert comics.”

“If you don’t have much of one, you can compensate with a lot of the other. When you see a successful person who lacks a college education, you’re usually looking at someone with an unusual lack of fear.”


Chapter Twenty-three Humor


“People who enjoy humor are simply more attractive than people who don’t. It’s human nature to want to spend time with people who can appreciate a good laugh or, better yet, cause one.” 

“The boost of energy will even make you more willing to exercise, and that will raise your overall energy even more.”

“Overcomplaining is never funny. Don’t overdo the self deprecation. Don’t mock people. Avoid puns and wordplay.” 

“humor is a violation of straight-line thinking.” 


Chapter Twenty-four Affirmations


”I, Scott Adams, will become an astronaut.” The details of affirmations probably don’t matter much because the process is about improving your focus, not summoning magic.” 

“My second attempt involved a girl I perceived to be far out of my league. I’ll shortcut that story by saying a series of coincidences lined up to make the unlikely happen, albeit briefly. But again, this wasn’t proof that affirmations work.” 

“Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley and assumed I was on my way to becoming a CEO of something important someday, and I didn’t think I needed any help to get there. That plan did not work out. The next time I used affirmations it was in pursuit of the rarest, most desirable job I have ever imagined. The affirmation went like this: “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” That worked out better.*”


Chapter Twenty-five Timing Is Luck Too


“The good timing for Dilbert was relentless. In the mid-1990s the media was focusing on the disturbing trend of corporate downsizing, and Dilbert got pushed to the front of the conversation as the symbol of hapless office workers everywhere. Dilbert was on the covers of Time, People, Newsweek, Fortune, Inc., and more. I modified Dilbert to be more workplace focused than it had originally been, and it became a perfect match of a comic with an era.” 


“The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good—not extraordinary—at more than one skill.”


“I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.” 


Chapter Twenty-six A Few Times Affirmations Worked 


“The Dilbert Principle started strong and within a few weeks hit number one on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. In a matter of months my follow-up book, Dogbert’s Big Book of Business, joined it in the number-two slot. The Success of the two books brought me a lot of attention and put a turbo boost on sales of Dilbert to newspapers. The Web site was getting huge traffic by the standards of the day, and I had a booming speaking career on the side. The licensing business for Dilbert took off too. Suddenly it seemed that everything I touched was working.” 


Chapter Twenty-seven Voice Update


“The appointment was set for the following week. For seven days I was like Schrödinger’s cat, maybe dead and maybe not. I lived alone in San Francisco and didn’t have much of a social support structure. It was just me and my one-room apartment. My bed was also my couch. It was a long week.” 


Chapter Twenty-eight Experts


“My observation and best guess is that experts are right about 98 percent of the time on the easy stuff but only right 50 percent of the time on anything that is unusually complicated, mysterious, or even new.”


Chapter Twenty-nine Association Programming 


“After Dilbert launched, I continued working my day job at Pacific Bell for several years. Since then, my old boss, Mike Goodwin (who was also the guy who named Dilbert), wrote and published a book about his father’s experience in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.) The book, Shobun, was his first attempt as a writer. It didn’t strike me as a huge coincidence that two cubicle rats from Pacific Bell both became published writers. The world is full of such ordinary coincidences.” 

“After I left Pacific Bell, I learned that another fellow who sat across the cubicle wall from me subsequently wrote a book about his stint in prison for murder. He’s out of jail now, and because I have a policy of being kind to people who strangle acquaintances with belts, I’d like to say he’s a fine fellow and his book is excellent. It’s You Got Nothing Coming: Notes from a Prison Fish, by Jimmy Lerner. What are the odds that three people in one little corner of Pacific Bell could all become published authors?” 

“Humans are social animals. 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.”


Chapter Thirty Happiness


“For starters, the single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. I’m contrasting that with the more common situation, in which you might be able to do all the things you want, but you can’t often do them when you want.” 

“But if the only time you were allowed to eat delicious food was right after you’d already filled your stomach with junk food, the delicious meal would not make you happy. A mediocre meal when you’re starving will contribute more to your happiness than an extraordinary meal when you’re not hungry. The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things.” 

“Happiness has more to do with where you’re heading than where you are. A person who is worth two billion dollars will feel sad if he suddenly loses one billion because he’s moving in the wrong direction, even if the change has no impact on his ability to buy what he wants.”

“I’ll cap this discussion by telling you the story of how I felt when my cartooning career reached its high point. It was the late nineties and I had just deposited the biggest check of my life, thanks largely to a multi book publishing deal. I had the precise job I had wanted since childhood. I was officially rich. I was as famous as I wanted to be. And I was suddenly and profoundly sad. What the hell was going on?” 

“Unhappiness that is caused by too much success is a high class problem. That’s the sort of unhappiness people work all of their lives to get. If you find yourself there, and I hope you do, you’ll find your attention naturally turning outward. You’ll seek happiness through service to others. I promise it will feel wonderful.” 


Chapter Thirty-one Diet


“I used to crave ice cream in a big way. At one point in my life I consumed up to two heaping bowls of vanilla-bean ice cream per day. During those years, broccoli seemed like the sort of thing that jailers forced prisoners to eat as punishment. Over time I trained myself to reverse my cravings. Now ice cream is easy to resist but I’m not comfortable going two days without a hit of broccoli. This transformation in cravings was the result of a deliberate effort to change my preferences. I set out to hack my brain like a computer and rewire the cravings circuitry.”

“My experience, as odd as it sounds, is that I can change my food preferences by thinking of my body as a programmable robot as opposed to a fleshy bag full of magic. This minor change in perspective is more powerful than it seems. Most people believe there is no strong connection between what they eat and how they feel. I call that perception the Fleshy Bag of Magic worldview.” 

“If you were hungry and I said you couldn’t eat the delicious bread in the breadbasket in front of you, it would take a lot of willpower to resist. But if I said you couldn’t have the delicious bread but you could have anything else you wanted, and you could have it right now, suddenly the bread would be easy to resist.” 


Chapter Thirty-two Fitness


“I have condensed the entire field of fitness advice into one sentence: Be Active Every Day” 

“That last part is the key. In my experience, any form of exercise that requires willpower is unsustainable. To stay fit in the long run you need to limit your exercise to whatever level doesn’t feel like work, just as kids do. When you take willpower out of the equation and you achieve a solid baseline of daily physical activity, your natural inclination will be to gradually increase your workout. You’ll do it because you want to, and because it will feel easy, and because you know it will feel good. No willpower will be needed.”


Scott Adams Quote: “You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.


In the long run, any system that depends on your willpower will fail.” 

“After that, the most important rule is that you should never exercise so much in one day that you won’t feel like being active the next day.”

“the right amount of exercise today is whatever amount makes me look forward to being active tomorrow.” 


Chapter Thirty-three Voice Update 2 


“Dilbert was running in over two thousand newspapers in sixty five countries.” 

“And talk they did. Perfectly. Not one of them had a hitch or a hesitation in their words. There was no hoarseness or clipped syllables. Each described the recovery from the operation as unpleasant because they choked nearly every time they tried to eat or drink for quite some time, but they were unanimous in saying it was worth it.” 


Chapter Thirty-four Luck


“My worldview is that all success is luck if you track it back to its source. Steve Jobs needed to both be born with Steve Jobs’s DNA and meet a fellow named Steve Wozniak. If Bill Gates had been born where I was born, he would have been shooting woodchucks on weekends to help the local dairy farmers instead of learning to program computers. Warren Buffett makes a similar observation about his own skills, saying, in effect, that if he had been born in an earlier time, his natural talents wouldn’t have matched the opportunities” 

“Every decision you make is a simple math product of those variables. What good is a book that discusses success if success is entirely luck? That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wonder. And it matters because if you believe all success is based on luck, you’re not likely to try as hard as if you believe success comes from hard work. No matter what genes and circumstances you have, history tells us you still need to work hard to pull it off. Does a belief in pure luck work against you? It can, but it doesn’t need to.” 


Chapter Thirty-five CalendarTree Start-up


“I often tried to speak during those months, just to see what would happen. But indeed, my brain was no longer communicating with my vocal cords. It was an odd feeling. So I whispered when I was at home, wrote notes when I was in noisy environments, choked on everything that went down my throat, and waited. I also repeated my affirmations in my head, if for no other reason than to prop up my optimism: I, Scott Adams, will speak perfectly.”


Chapter Thirty-six Voice Update 3


“She said, “You just … talked.” And indeed I had. It wasn’t much of a voice. It was weak and breathy and I couldn’t sustain it beyond a few words at a time. But right on schedule, my brain and my vocal cords were becoming reacquainted. It wasn’t success. It was just a start. I had months to go before knowing if the surgery had worked in any meaningful way. And I was worlds away from fulfilling my affirmation of speaking “perfectly.” But it was something. It was a lot. I cried.” 

“If you think your odds of solving your problem are bad, don’t rule out the possibility that what is really happening is that you are bad at estimating odds.”


Chapter Thirty-seven A Final Note About Affirmations


“We know the brain creates illusions because there are so many competing religions in the world. Assuming you picked the right religion, all of those other poor souls are living in adeep illusion. Your neighbor might think he remembers his previous life, while you think you saw God during your heart bypass surgery. You can’t both be right. But you could both be wrong, and both of you might be experiencing delusions of reality that somehow don’t kill you.”

“To put it in simpler terms, affirmations might work for perfectly logical reasons our brains aren’t equipped to understand.”


Chapter Thirty-eight Summary


“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.”

Avoid career traps such as pursuing jobs that require you to sell your limited supply of time while preparing you for nothing better.”

“Most important, understand that goals are for losers and systems are for winners. People who seem to have good luck are often the people who have a system that allows luck to find them.”

“And always remember that failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Invite it in. Learn from it. And don’t let it leave until you pick its pocket. That’s a system. The End”


Book Review (Personal Opinion):


This is a perfect book for someone who is ambitious, but doesn’t want to be the next Musk, Bezos, or Zuckerberg. Scott Adams is the epitome of a regular, mediocre guy who still managed to win big in life. His entire philosophy can be summarized as “a bunch of mediocre skills combined together create big wins.” And the self-deprecating and honest style makes this book a joy to read!


Rating: 8/10


This Book Is For (Recommend):


  • An ambitious young professional looking for ways to succeed without working 16 hours a day for years
  • An entrepreneur starting out his business venture
  • Anyone who wants to learn how to live life according to their rules


If You Want To Learn More


Here’s Adams discussing his book in an interview.
Hoover Institution


How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book


I’m not the best writer in the world nor do I read most amount of books. But when I combine my mediocre writing skills with my reading skills and the business experience from my freelance writing career, I get And that’s enough for me!


One Small Actionable Step You Can Do


Adams mentions in one of his chapters that witholding praise is immoral— children get praised constantly, while adults… not so much. When you see something that impresses you, “a decent respect to humanity insists you voice your praise.”

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams - Book Summary Infographic