Book Summary: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams


In a Nutshell

In this book, Scott lays out his personal system for success. In short, your main goal in life should be to obtain happiness. To become happier, you should get healthy, acquire resources, and have a flexible schedule (in that order). To get healthy, start with a healthy diet, which will increase your energy. You should also exercise every day, which will give you more energy, make you more attractive, and increase your chances of good luck finding you.


Book Notes

Manage your opportunities so that luck can more easily find you. Despite the role of luck in achieving success, the human brain is programmed to make you believe that it was the result of your own hard work rather than sheer luck. There are inherent problems with giving advice in book form. Advice shouldn’t be one size fits all, and can’t be applicable to everyone all the time.


Topics in this book

  1. Goals are for losers.
  2. Your mind is not a mystery, but a moist computer that can be programmed.
  3. The most important metric to track is your personal interest.
  4. Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
  5. Happiness = health + freedom.
  6. Luck can be managed, sort of.
  7. Conquer shyness by being a huge phony.
  8. Fitness is the lever that moves the world.
  9. Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.


Your personal bullshit filter

Most people are pretty bad at separating truth from fiction. When it comes to any big or complicated question, humility is the best point of view.


Six filters for truth

  1. Personal experience
  2. Experience of people you know.
  3. Advice from experts.
  4. Scientific observation – correlation does not equal causality.
  5. Common sense.
  6. Pattern recognition


Although not perfect, consistency is the best measure of proof that we have. Try to get consistent results from at least two sources before believing something.


The power of simplicity

Simplification is essential to getting your point across. The purest form of how simplification works is capitalism, because all of the complexities and challenges of business all boil down to one thing— maximizing profits. Simplification enables capitalism to work. Just like any other tool, the biggest risk in simplifying is taking it too far.


When you’re speaking in public, your internal sense of time is thrown off. Try pausing for a couple of extra moments after the audience is done welcoming you for full effect.


Passion is bullshit

Despite the commonly distributed advice, “follow your passion,” it is bad advice. Banks sometimes don’t loan money to passionate people, because passionate people are more likely to take big risks. As a result, you see both more successes and more failures from passionate people, and the only ones we hear about are those that were successful. In reality, success leads to passion more than passion leads to success. This is because we enjoy things that we are good at, and we dislike things that we’re bad at. What really leads us to more success is having more energy.


Failure is good

Instead of fearing failure, invite it. Then survive it, appreciated, and conquer it. Failure is one of the most underrated pathways to success. That said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a loser mentality. Becoming better at withstanding failure shouldn’t be the best consequence of failure. Instead we should aim to get sharper, smarter, and better networked, and healthier as a results of it. Success is usually some combination of hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk. Not passion.


Learnings from Scott’s early failures

– Good execution matters more than good ideas.

– Seek opportunities in which you have an advantage.

– Even if something you work really hard on fails, it will give you skills, connections, and ideas that might help you in the future.

– Timing is often the most important part of success.

-Manage your own investments, but put them in broad indexed securities with low expenses.


Systems vs. Goals

If you are constantly chasing goals, you live in a state of “pre-success failure” until you achieve your goal. You also might waste time chasing a goal that will be irrelevant to you in the future. Once you achieve your goal, you will feel happy until you realize that your goal was what gave you purpose in the first place.


A system is something you do on a regular basis to increase your odds of happiness in the long run. Systems people succeed every time they apply their system. Systems put you in a position to get lucky. You can apply the systems mindset to every facet of life, for example:

– diet: eat healthy

– exercise: workout every day

– investing: invest in undervalued companies

– your career: go to a good school and develop skills that will help you start a company


Scott’s System

Create something of value that is easy to reproduce in unlimited quantities. Don’t trade time for money, as that has an upward limit. Scott decided that something creative was the best fit for him, rather than something like sales. There are so many options of what to focus on that you need a quick and easy filter to narrow them down.


“If you want success, figure out the price then pay it.”


Don’t wish, decide

There’s a big difference between wishing and deciding. If you really want to make a change, just decide. Wishing starts in the mind and usually stays there. When you decide something, you acknowledge the price you need to pay in order to get it, and you’re willing to accept that sacrifice. If you choose the right system, the price is negotiable.


On being selfish

It’s okay to be selfish. Selfish people are not stupid and are not a burden on others. Almost all successful people are selfish. As a byproduct of being successful, they pay more taxes, give more to charity, and contribute to the economy and to society. The most important forms of being selfish are fitness, healthy diet, furthering your career, and spending time with family and friends. People often make sacrifices of their time and health in order to appear generous and selfless. Instead, you should take care of yourself first, see you can be more generous in the long run.


Selfishness is a powerful strategy when you’re struggling. Success makes you want to give back more.


Increasing your energy will make you more successful

Focusing on increasing your energy will make it easier to manage all of your other priorities. You can maximize your energy by eating well, exercising, reducing stress, and getting good sleep. Have something in your life that makes it easy to wake up. Good energy is contagious. Being the person that increases other people’s moods will make you more successful in every facet of your life.  “Energy” is pretty abstract, but you can think of it as anything that gives you a positive mental or physical boost.


Figure out your optimal daily routine

Match your mental state to the task at hand. If you are creative in the mornings, use the morning to do creative things to get the most out of your time. Exercise when you have the most physical energy.


Become a morning person

You might think that you’re not a morning person, but it can’t be great once you get used to it. You can get more done before people wake up than most people accomplish in an entire day.


Simplifiers vs. optimizers

Simplifiers look for a solution that’s easy and meets most of the requirements, while optimizers spend extra time to arrive at the best possible solution. Simplification is almost always the right answer when a situation involves communications with other people. Optimization is often better when doing a task individually or with one other person on the same wavelength, or when you just have to get something done in a short amount of time. If you’re not sure, you should probably default to the simplest solution. Simpler approaches are easier to manage and control, and lead to less unnecessary stress. Optimizers tend to have goals they want to meet, while simplifiers are usually more systems oriented. Humans are better at following simple systems then complex ones. Simplicity also frees up more of your time and energy.

“Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal.”


Align your brain with your body

Your brain echoes what your body is doing. You can train yourself to concentrate while lying down, but it goes against your natural instinct. That’s why it can be hard to get work done at home or in bed. Dedicate some specific locations and positions for working and others to playing.



Keeping things clutter-free can help you stay clear-headed and energetic.


Do flash research

Things that appear to be difficult at first pass might actually be very easy. You could usually find this out quickly with a simple Google search. When you know you can do something, you will have more energy when you actually have to do it.


Don’t be an asshole

Assholes make the lives of others miserable for no good reason. Don’t be an asshole.



  1. Yourself – you need to take care of yourself to do anything else productive
  2. Finances – you need to take care of your finances in order to avoid being a burden on others
  3. Family, friends, and lovers – you need to maintain these in order to be truly happy
  4. Community, country, and the world


Priorities will conflict and overlap, so you need a simple rule to decide when it’s okay to let a lower priority jump a higher one. Meaningful work can be energizing, so don’t automatically put work below other priorities.


Manage your emotions

Controlling your attitude can make you a lot happier. You can control your attitude through your thoughts, your body, and your actions. To improve your attitude quickly, think of happy thoughts/dreams/memories, or try smiling. Exercise, food, and sleep are three ways to elevate your energy. Avoid depressing news, music, and movies. Some bad experiences will just take time to recover from.



Make a habit of daydreaming. Work on projects that have a chance at changing the world, improving humanity, or making $1 billion. Even if it is unrealistic, if it makes you happy and boost your energy then it’s worth it. Even if your project fails, it will have been a success as long as you learn something or made some valuable relationships along the way.


Fake it until you make it

Force a smile even when you don’t want to. It will make you happier. Smiling makes you more attractive, and breeds trust and credibility. Avoid people who are downers.


On winning

Get really good at a few trivial hobbies. The sensation of winning will give you more energy. Let that feeling propel you to victories in other domains. Superstitions can work to your advantage, even if the reason behind why you think they work is wrong. Likewise, your imagined version of the future can be highly useful to you today as a motivator and an energy booster.


Natural talent and appetite for risk are two early indicators of success. Beyond that, sticking with something is not always the best approach to succeeding. You have to try lots of different things to find out which path works best.


When to quit

Things that start out well usually end up well, while things that start out poorly often end poorly. The average response to your idea doesn’t matter. What matters is that some subset of people are unusually enthusiastic about your idea and actually willing to take action.


The value test

Only practice skills that have the potential to deliver economic value. Everyone has natural inclinations that can be tailored to success in certain circumstances. Use these as a compass to decide what skills to work on.


Manage your odds for success

Every complementary skill you acquire will double your odds of success. You don’t even need to be great or world class to make this happen—just being good will help. You are much better off being good at to skills that complement each other rather than being great at one skill.


The knowledge rule

“The more you know, the more you can know”

Keep up with the news, but focus on things that interest you the most. Don’t necessarily avoid all bad news, but at the same time don’t dwell on it.


Math vs. magic

See the world as math rather than magic. If you consider the probability of success in different parts of your life, you will be better informed and succeed more as a consequence. This includes becoming good at more and more skills to increase your chances of success. Some things that every adult should have a working knowledge of include:

– Public speaking: getting good at it will give you a huge source of confidence, and make you feel alive. It will also teach you the value of praise and positive reinforcement.

– Psychology: there are many biases that affect how we view alternatives and make decisions (side note: look into the framing bias, sunk cost fallacy, anchoring, attribution error). Getting an understanding of these will make you more effective in your professional and personal life. For example, quality is not an objective measure, as it depends on whatever frame of reference you’re comparing it to. Reason is only one of the drivers behind how we act in the real world. For example, people are often swayed by how a product makes them feel rather than the true merit and cost of that product. Also, reason only goes as far as the complexity of the situation allows.

– Business writing: it’s all about getting straight to the point and avoiding all of the extra nonsense. See Scott Adams on The Day You Became a Better Writer.

– Accounting: a base-level knowledge of accounting will help you vet business ideas more aptly.

– Basics of design: For example, things look better in odd numbers. Also, a common pro technique for everything from PowerPoint slides to oil paintings is the “L” shape layout, in which the content is shaped like an “L” with the remaining part reserved for whitespace.

– Conversation: ask questions until you find something that you’re both interested in. Six questions to ask in conversation include: 1. What’s your name? 2. Where do you live? 3. Do you have a family? 4. What do you do for a living? 5. Do you have any hobbies? 6. Do you have any travel plans? Good techniques for conversation: ask questions, don’t complain, don’t talk about boring experiences, don’t dominate the conversation, don’t get stuck on a topic (keep things moving!), keep the sad stories short. The whole point is to make the other person feel good. Turn your experiences into stories by setting it up, adding a twist, then wrapping up with a final bought or feet. All good stories are about personalities, and most funny stories are good stories.

– Overcoming shyness

– A second language

– Golf

– Grammar

– Persuasion: learn these persuasive phrases–”because…” (have a reason for what you ask for), “would you mind?”, “I’m not interested,” “I don’t do that,” I have a rule…”, “I just wanted to clarify…”, “is there anything you can do for me?” Some persuasive behaviors include: decisiveness, insanity (which doesn’t bend to reason), energy

– Technology

– Proper voice technique: having a commanding voice is highly correlated with success. To improve your voice, breathe more deeply and get rid of filler words.


Patterns for success

Lack of fear of embarrassment, education, and exercise are all correlated with success. Successful people tend to believe that success is a learnable skill.


Use repeated spoken or written affirmations to focus your mind on your goals. Spend the majority of your time being around people that are successful, in good shape, and happy.


Choose to be happier

You can’t easily change your circumstances or even change your mood quickly, but you can change your body chemistry through physical activity. Also, make strategic trade-offs to maximize your happiness. For example, having a flexible schedule will make you happier than making more money with a highly demanding schedule. Slow and steady progress at anything will make you happier, so choose work and hobbies that you can continue to get better at as you get older.


Live a healthy lifestyle

Improving your diet is another great way to change your body chemistry. Learn to avoid simple carbs like white bread and white rice by allowing yourself to eat more of everything else. Use substitutions like these to avoid relying on your limited source of willpower. Drink 2 to 4 cups of coffee a day. Do something active every day.


Use affirmations to re-wire your brain

Affirmations are a great way to make it easier for luck to find you. Affirmations make you an optimist by definition, which will give you more energy and make you more willing to take risks, and notice opportunities more readily. There is no right or wrong way to do affirmations, as long as you really believe them. Goals are only useful if you have a system in place that moves you in the right direction toward accomplishing them.

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