Scott Adams is the very successful creator of Dilbert. He is also a very intelligent guy and sincerely interested in making the world a better place. In this book he gives advice on optimizing your chances for luck and success. I found this book fascinating because I love learning from smart people who have figured out something I haven’t.
My top five most important take aways from this book were:
- Personal energy is your most important resource and the most important metric to track. Ways to maximize your energy include diet, exercise, sleep, and having a flexible schedule.
- Goals Vs. Systems – Adams says goals are for losers. Harsh words, but he goes on to say that you spend every moment before you reach your goal (if you reach it at all) feeling as if you are short of your goal. In other words you exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that you hope will be temporary. The smarter choice is to have a system for continuous improvement. You succeed every time you apply your system, and this maintains your personal energy in the right direction. There is a lot of discussion on how to create systems.
- Simplifing vs. Optimizing. An optimizer looks for the very best solution even if extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems. A simplifier looks for the simplest solution with the least chance of complexity complicating things. Optimizers make elaborate plans that can collapse if one variable is not perfect – think traffic, road construction, an unexpected wait somewhere. Simplifiers look for simple solutions that might take a bit of extra effort but have a good chance of working out. Think of a dinner and movie night with friends. You allow plenty of travel time, make a reservation at the restaurant, meet friends there rather than make elaborate plans to meet somewhere else and travel together. You don’t tack on other errands or stops on the way. Chances are you’ll be on time for your movie. If you optimize the trip you might drop off the dry cleaning on the way, but find a big line waiting to pick up and have your time table go straight to hell. Sometimes optimizing works and sometimes it doesn’t. I tend to optimize – I combine all my errands in one big trip with an elaborate itinerary. Somtimes this is great, sometimes not so much. Nothing causes me stress like being late, and optimizing can cause the whole house of cards to collapse if one little thing goes wrong. Simplifying sometimes makes more sense, especially when timing is critical or others are involved.
- Knowing when to quit. No one wants to be a quitter, right? Persistence is a virtue and all. He posits that things that will work out start out well. So, if you have a great idea that you just can’t any traction with, maybe it isn’t such a wonderful idea after all, or the timing just isn’t right. He cites examples like cell phones, the first clunky ones were eagerly purchased even though they were terribly flawed.
- Every skill you acquire doubles your chances of success. Some skills, like business writing and a working understanding of psychology are more important than others. I agree! He gives a list of skills he recommends.
Adams invites us to think of ourselves as moist robots, rather than “skin bags of magic and mystery”. Robots are programmable and we can program ourselves for success and happiness. I do think we are also magical and mysterious, but I don’t find these two ideas so incompatible that I can’t accept both.
I found this book easy to read and did so quickly, since it was full of good ideas and well written to keep the reader interested in moving forward.
A big thumbs up to How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big, it’s definitely worth a read.
I’m going to create a morning system designed to get me off to a good start every day. Right now my morning consists of lying around sipping coffee and goofing around on my Ipad for a couple of hours. I can probably improve that!