How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Summary Written by Barb Brittain-Marshall

The Big Idea

See failure as a friend, not foe

"Failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure."- How to Fail at Almost Everything, page 16

Through various topics including find a system, pare away all else except what energizes you, and strategically improve your odds against the elusive lady of luck, Scott Adams sets out a template for success that is only accessible if one cultivates a relationship with failure. He is quick to point out that while his book is not an advice book, he has gathered some experiential wisdom over the years as a ‘wanna be’ restaurateur, closet inventor, and a programmer geek of computer games. In fact, Mr. Adams encourages us to “invite failure, survive it, and even appreciate it, because failure always brings something of value with it.”

Insight #1

You need a system

"Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners."- How to Fail at Almost Everything, page 32

At first read you may react personally and wonder if the goal you are currently working towards means you are a loser! But if you stick with Scott Adam’s train of thought, you may come out feelings intact and with a new system.

The author suggests that there is a hidden gem of wisdom in thinking about goals and systems as very different concepts. A goal, as he defines it, is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system, in contrast, is something you do on regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run and has no deadlines. He goes on to share that because goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, they are often associated with frustration and a sense of failure if goals are not met. Or that once you meet your goal you stop moving. He proposes that the most successful people have a system that is always in motion. There may be hiccups along the way, but the system keeps on chugging along. There is no complacency in a system. You are always striving for something beyond where you find yourself today. Something better.

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Insight #2

Passion is overrated

"Energy is good. Passion is bull."- How to Fail at Almost Everything, page 13

When you are in the middle of that bubbling vat of failure it is hard to have passion about what you are doing. No kidding. Scott Adams suggests that it isn’t passion that is going to rescue you, but rather the choices you make that maximize your personal energy. His thinking here is that if you learn how to make the right choices (eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep etc.) to get your personal energy right then the quality of your work will be better, more creative, more efficient. Energy like this has longevity whereas passion can be fleeting.

Mr. Adams says that we need to find something that completes this sentence: “The main reason I (insert your job/hobby) is because it energizes me.” If nothing comes to mind quickly, think about what gets you going in the morning. That thing that you do that you don’t need another reason to do it. Until you can answer this question you are not doing what you will be most successful at. In his words, “Let your ideas for the future fuel your energy today.”

More than once the Dilbert creator warns us not to take advice from a cartoonist. But I would suggest that this cartoonist has some real truths for those looking to turn failure into success.

Read the book

Get How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big on Amazon.

Scott Adams

Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, one of the most popular and widely-distributed comic strips of the past quarter century. He has been a full-time cartoonist since 1995, after 16 years as a technology worker for companies like Crocker National Bank and Pacific Bell. His many bestsellers include The Dilbert Principle and Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook. He lives outside of San Francisco.

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