Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

When I first read this book, I took a few notes/made a few bookmarks in order to make sure I remembered everything I wanted to cover. But then I found I needed more notes, because I hadn’t adequately prepared myself — so I thought I’d skim. Several times, I found myself reading entire chapters again when all I meant to do was skim it. That’s how good How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life is. It’s great, it’s full of advice, and it’s funny and approachable. I’m going to start with three big notes I made more than once each:

Goals are for Losers

Scott Adams spends a great deal of the book using his own life as the back drop for his advice. Because of this his advice has strong value: the man has been an undeniable success. One of the first major concepts in the book is also something I sort-of tried to make myself do without realizing it: setting up a system, versus a series of goals. Too recent enough for me to face without shame I wrote a half-ass blog post about setting what I called “small goals” for another writing blog — but they’re still goals. I just broke tasks up into today, two weeks, and three months. It’s still setting goals, but it’s better than the grand goals I’ve tended toward. Adams throws out that idea totally: develop a system, and work the system.

Write every day. Exercise. Whatever the “goal” is, what you need is a system that gets you there — otherwise you’re (mentally, but possibly literally) masturbating. This is my shortened version and Adams has a great deal of experience in the matter, he shows how his systems helped him, and how they will help in other situations. He’s spot on here, and this section alone is worth the price of the book.

The Moist Robot/Computer Theory

Adams uses this to discuss how to force yourself into a system, among other things. Basically, we are programmable, “moist” computers — which stands to reason. We can force ourselves to develop or break habits (usually by overwriting that “code” with different habits). Our brains want to execute the best instructions for our success — and thus are open to new programs. I enjoyed every bit of this idea he wrote about, and I see it applying in many areas of my own life. This can be used in combination with other mindset and habit forming behavior to maximize your ability to focus, and fight for success.

Every Skill Doubles Your Odds of Success

Adams calls this the “talent stack”, both in the book and on his (free) blog. In the book, he details his own talents and how each successive one helped, and then talks about various skills everyone should learn. I won’t go into great detail here because that would just be ripping off the book, but anyone who knows about Scott Adams will not be surprised that he included persuasion in the list.

Now, for a few general thoughts and praises:

Passion is Bullshit — which goes against all the advice we give and receive about how to pursue a job or career, but Adams points out several instances of problems with having an overly passionate, or emotional, bond with any idea. (Stephen King talks about this in his writing advice, “kill your darlings,” — just because you like an idea, doesn’t mean you should keep it in a story if it hurts the overall tale. It’s a much smaller scale version of the idea, but we often need to be warned off of our emotional weaknesses.)

Treating Energy like a Budget — this is some mindset type stuff, but it’s the truth.

When Adams talks about his battle against focal (and vocal) dystonia, it becomes clear that he absolutely had to develop the discipline and mindset he is selling in this book. It also becomes quite clear that it works, because he overcame two very hard situations — both of which directly impacted his ability to work in his fields. If you can’t draw, you can’t be an artist. If you can’t speak, you can’t be a public speaker. Those are pretty stark truths, but Adams fought to regain both abilities — and the story is downright amazing and inspiring. It also represents serious “money where his mouth is” for the author. He isn’t just spouting out made up bullshit — he lives this.

He talks about several other areas of life — diet, exercise, sleep, humor, dealing with failure, time management and time wasting. All the sort of things you’d expect in a lifestyle or advice book, but he approaches it the same way as every other topic: what works for him, and why, and how you can tailor that to your own life.

Finally, I want to close on a topic many mindset books cover: Affirmations. Adams hits that topic, too, and damned if it isn’t the best discussion and explanation of them that I’ve ever seen. He even includes a few, and talks about where they fit in with his own successes (and, his own failures). But, I’m coming up fast on a thousand words so I’ll cut this off with the following advice, because I like to keep these short:

Check out the book — you won’t be sorry:

  • MLaf

    Good review, thanks Adam. One thing that jumped at me though, you write: “Our brains want to execute the best instructions for our success.”. That’s not what I got from the book. I believe Scott claims that the brain only cares about survival and if we’re still alive now, then that’s good enough! (which explains why it is hard to change any habit). Cheers!

    • MLaf,

      Absolutely — I should have written that better, or more clearly. Success at survival/being “happy” (because the brain *loves* it some happy/endorphins.)

      Glad you liked the review — there are several more (and more coming!)