Success is 10% inspiration and 99% perspiration. This is true of any world-class performer. But usually, the hard work, the sweating and the panting get drowned in the trumpets and the hurrahs. In Angela Duckworth's book, 'Grit', she explains:
Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They'd rather show the highlight of what they've become
That is why 'How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big', comes as such a breath of fresh air. An important aspect of this book is how you can cope with failures and learn from them. Repeated failures DO NOT make YOU a failure. Scott Adams has an entire chapter on 36 of his failed ideas (these are just some of the many, he says). Often times, he would spend years on end working on something before realizing that it wouldn't work. For example, he spent almost every night and every weekend for 2 years to teach himself enough about programming to create a space-themed, arcade-typed game. He advertised the game in the backs of computer publications and sold fewer than twenty copies!
I'd heard a lot about this book. The title definitely looked intriguing, but I wasn't sure whether I should buy it or not! I wasn't convinced enough about its prospects of helping me succeed in my life mainly because:
- Till that point, I'd only known Scott as the author of Dilbert comics. Like he himself points out in the book, it didn't seem very pleasant to be taking life lessons from a cartoonist.
- I wasn't sure whether this book was a humorous take on serious topics or just a humorous book. In my previous attempts to learn from the multitudes of self help books available in the market, I'd realised one thing - most of them are pretty dry and useless.
While my apprehensive mind was looking for reasons not to buy this book, I sifted through the pages like I always do before buying a book. The first page I landed on read 'Passion is Bullshit'. As a person who has spent most of her 20s in the quest to find that single passion to focus on (because apparently, all great people have one!), this came as a relief (or revelation, shall I say). I read on.
Here is his argument: Passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, so you would expect to see more failures and successes among the passionate. Passionate people who fail don't get a chance to offer their advice to the rest of us. But successful people are writing books and answering questions about their secrets for success every day.
He goes on: If you ask a billionaire the secret of his success, he might say it is passion, because that sounds like a sexy answer that is suitably humble. But after a few drinks, I think he'd say his success was a combination of desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk.
To me, it does make sense. I've read about and listened to interviews of successful people. Talk about Tim Ferris, who recently mentioned in one of his interviews that he had started his podcast (the very famous, The Tim Ferriss Show, is generally the #1 business podcast on all of iTunes, and it’s been ranked #1 (of all podcasts) on many occasions) as a short term side project. But now he is so passionate about it that he wants to keep doing it.
According to Scott Adams, objectively speaking, 'Success caused passion in his case, more that passion caused success'. For example, Dilbert started out as one of Scott's many attempts to be rich, but when it started to look as if it might be a success, his passion for cartooning increased! In a way, it is that chapter that made me buy this book. It made me realise that Scott Adams is not just a cartoonist, he has an entirely different take on life.
The three main themes that govern this book are:
- Goals are for losers (look at a System versus Goals approach)
- Passion is overrated (we need more than just passion to succeed)
- Luck can be manipulated, sort of (make it easier for luck to find you)
I particularly like the part where he elaborates on each of his 36 failures, to give us the perspective that he is not a run-away success. In public speaking parlance, there is a famous quote, 'it usually takes me 2-3 weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech'. Preparation and learning from your failures are as important to being successful as anything else. Scott Adams says, 'Failure is a resource that can be managed'.
When one idea failed, I usually had two more to take it's place. You will always end up learning something valuable in the process of failing.
Through out the book, Scott tries to bust a lot of myths through examples and stories, in an attempt to let the world know that you don't have to follow the 'conventional wisdom' to be successful.
What I like about Scott Adams is what he himself calls, 'a cartoonist's knack for simplification'. This book is not an autobiography; it's a candid expression of his life's journey so far, and a treasure trove of practical wisdom. As Scott himself rightly points out, 'this book is kind of the story of his life'; it tries to discuss whether Scott's success is a result of talent, luck, hard work or an accidental just-right balance of each. He doesn't fail to highlight that he did pursue a conscious strategy of managing his opportunities in a way that made it easier for luck to find him. An endearing feature of the book is it's humor (and the umpteen Dilbert comic strips sprinkled through out the book). In my opinion, humour is like salt - if it's too much you will miss the point and if it's too less, the content becomes dry. The right mix of humor and content makes this book an absolute delight to read! Scott as an author, comes across as a very likeable figure - as if you're sitting in a cafe talking to your friend. Humor has that effect on people, psychologically. After reading the book, I felt like I've known Scott for years! So even if you dont want to pay heed to the content of the book, you will still enjoy reading for its high entertainment quotient.
One of my favorite thoughts from the book is that 'market rewards execution, not ideas'. The idea is only as good as it's execution. The best idea in the world if executed poorly is not going to benefit anyone. We all come up with lots of ideas every day, but how many times have we put in the effort to make it a reality?
This reminds me of another beautiful point from Derek Sivers that Success in business can be simple, but it's not easy. Most complex problems have a simple solution, but it's execution takes effort. According to me, the only differentiating factor between mediocre and successful is the extra mile that some people are ready to go in pursuit of their ideas.
Coming back to the book, let me touch upon the highlights:
- Goals are for losers
- Your mind isn't magic. It's a moist computer you can program
- The most important metric to track is your personal energy
- Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success
- Happiness is health plus freedom
- Luck can be managed, sort of
- Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way)
- Fitness is the lever that moves the world
- Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing
As you can see, this book is a collection of useful life-hacks and a reality check to anyone who thinks that success comes easy. Every chapter focusses on a specific concept; there is no single thread, except probably, how to be successful. That is why you'll find that there are 38 chapters in this book spread across just 232 pages. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn to be successful.
1. Tim Ferris podcast with Scott Adams
2. Scott Adams Blog
3. Dilbert.com Blog