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How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Scott Adams

"This is not an advice book. If you've ever taken advice from a cartoonist, there's a good chance it didn't end well ... I'm getting paid to write this book, and we all know that money distorts truth like a hippo in a thong ... By any objective measure, I must be one of the least credible people on Earth ... Given the truth between saying what's true and what's funny, I'll take the path with the greatest entertainment value.

Most people think they have perfectly good bullshit detectors. But if that were the case we'd all have the same religious beliefs. Most people have poor filters for sorting truth from fiction. Think of the people who disagree with you, and how confident they are are while they're doing it. That's what you look like to them.

How we usually judge 'truth':
1. Personal experience (but human perception very unreliable)
2. Experience of others (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, coincidences and personal bias look alike)

If tackling new/difficult problem, first step is always ask a smart friend how he or she tackled the problem.

Capitalism is basically simple - everything boils down to profits. Profits tell management when they are doing something right and when they need to do something different. You can debate the morality of viewing profits as the top priority in business, but you can't argue that it doesn't work. At most you can argue that some companies take it too far. But that is a risk with any tool. A hammer is good only if you stop pounding once the nail is all the way in.

Capitalism is potentially a system to cheat your customers and workers, yet it inspires people to work hard, take reasonable risks, and create value for customers.

'Passion' is mostly BS. People use that word bc can't say "I succeeded bc I'm smarter than you." Every new thing you try gets you excited and passionate at the start. Then, as it fails, your excitement/passion drains away. The few that work become more exciting as they succeed. Success causes passion more than passion causes success. Ask a millionaire how got to the top he might say 'passion' bc that's suitably humble. But after a few drinks he'll say his success is due to a combination of luck, determination, hard work and appetite for risk.

Look for systems, not goals. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, until you reach that goal you will spend your time being unhappy bc you haven't yet succeeded. But a system involving eating well and exercising is a system that can be checked off every day. A goal is something that might make you happy in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your chance of happiness in long run. Olympic athletes have a goal, but they get there with a system of regular training.

Warren Buffett's system is buying undervalued companies and then holding them forever, or until something drastic changes.

"(With) Scrabble, Ping-pong and tennis, I'm better than 99% of the other 7 billion people in the world, bc I've put in more practice time than 99% of the population. That's all there is to it - no magic, no innate ability.

Very rare to find a selfish successful person. Even if they started out selfishly, success changes you. You have to look after yourself first, but then you turn outward.

The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, seems to get insane dogs to behave. But his main trick is training the humans to control their emotions. When they learned to do that, the dogs calmed down too. The same thing applies to human-human interaction. Bring good energy to the relationship.

Simplifiers vs Optimisers. Simplifier prefers easy way to accomplish something, even though aware extra effort might have produced a better outcome. Optimiser tries to fit extra little tasks into schedule, even though makes them run late. Simplification frees up time and energy; optimising gets better outcomes but at the cost of higher stress.

Increase your happy thoughts - daydream about wonderful things in your future - whether likely or unlikely.

("I'm assuming there is such a thing as a dog-brained version of imagination. If not, don't let it derail the point of the analogy.")

People tend to be defensive when meet stranger, so starts out flat. Ask: What's your name? where do you live? do you have a family? other hobbies or sports? travel plans? work? Don't make jokes bc most people either won't understand or appreciate.

The rule for evaluating new products/ideas: things that will someday work out well, start out well. You rarely see a stillborn failure transmogrify into a stellar success. Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into success. Cell phones started out as crappy product but were so useful that people get using them despite the poor quality.

The early Simpsons series were memorably radical, but are almost unwatchably crude by modern standards.

Studios test pilot programs of proto-series. Not looking for a certain level of enjoyment; they want a strong reaction from a small subset of the audience, even if the majority hates it.

"When politicians lie, 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 better is more effective than a hundred rational arguments. That's even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie. If you are perplexed at how society can tolerate pols who lie so blatantly, you're thinking of people as rational beings... humans are moist machines that are simply responding to inputs with programmed outputs. No reasoning is involved beyond eliminating the most absurd options. 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.

Every skill you acquire doubles your chance of success. You don't have to be great at it, just good. If you are a good public speaker and know yr way round a Powerpoint presentation, you have a good chance of running an organization. You are much better off being good at two complementary skills than excellent at one. Take an evening class in web site design.

Scott Adams is a perfect example of leveraging effect of multiple mediocre skills. He is a rich and famous cartoonist. But doesn't draw very well. Never the funniest person in the room. Not a great writer. But what he does have, that most artists or cartoonists don't have is years of corporate business experience plus a Berkeley MBA.

When it comes to skills, quantity beats quality. Took company-paid classes in public speaking, time management, managing difficult people, budgeting, business writing and others. Best skill was early knowledge of Internet, thanks to day job at Pacific Bell. When struggled to get Dilbert going in newspapers, moved it online and built a fan base. It was widely pirated, of course, but the piracy helped more than it hurt.

Lifelong habit of reading about world events, at least once a day. The more diverse your reading the easier it is to see patterns in the world and to develop mental hooks to hang new knowledge on. Start reading the stuff you are interested in . Avoid the tragedies and dramas - concentrate on science technology and business, where you are more likely to see challenging and uplifting stories.

Need a library of funny stories. Each story needs to be something your audience can relate to, and it needs to have a twist to make it interesting. If it doesn't have a twist then it's just a regurgitation of your day, and that may be fine for your spouse, but is just not interesting to a group of people.

"It's hard to imagine any business or social activity that doesn't require a basic understanding of how the human brain perceives the world. Almost any decision you make is in the context of managing what other people will think of you. We're all in the business of selling some version of ourselves. Psychology is embedded in everything we do."

Take any chance to thank people, but be specific - include a detail of exactly what you were grateful for.

Learn to speak authoritatively.

Dealing with experts is always tricky. Are they competent? How often are they right? My best guess is that experts are right about 98% of the time on the easy stuff, but only right 50% of the time on anything that is new or unusually complex.


This is the clearest example of how your brain has a user interface. When you are in a bad mood, the physical act of forcing a smile may trigger the feelgood chemistry in your brain that is associated with happiness.

The smiling-makes-you-happy phenomenon is part of the larger and highly useful phenomenon of faking it until you make it. I've also discovered that acting confident makes you feel more confident. Feeling energetic makes you want to play sport, but playing a sport will also make you feel energetic. Loving someone makes you want to have sex, but having sex also releases the bonding chemicals that make you feel love.

Understanding this is highly useful for boosting your personal energy. To take advantage of it, I find it useful to imagine my mind as a conversation between two individuals. It feels that way because I think in sentences, as if talking to another entity that is also me. One of me tends to be rational and instinctual. When the rational me wants to perk up the emotional me - the part of me that controls my energy - the rational me has to act as a programmer and push the right buttons.

The next time you are in a gloomy mood, try smiling at a stranger you pass in the street. You will be surprised by how many people reflexively return the smile, and if you smile often enough, eventually that will cue up the happiness subroutine in your brain and release the chemicals you desire.

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