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

Of course I know Scott Adams from Dilbert fame, but I first became aware of him as more than a cartoonist thanks to his blog, and most recently his prescient comments about Donald Trump. The book attracted me when I learned he’s from a small town in upstate New York, son of a postman, in a family where nobody went to college (sound familiar?)

Here are some of the points that resonated with me:

  • “Goals are for losers”: focus on systems, general heuristics that play out over the long term, rather than specific goals.
  • Optimise your energy
  • Success: every skill you acquire doubles your odds.

He has a chapter on diet, showing how he was able to lose a lot of weight (to 147, down from a peak of 168) by simply reprogramming himself to enjoy the types of food that are good for you. He is mostly vegetarian (occasionally eating fish), but he’s not religious about it.


Learn the basic components and you’ll be a more interesting storyteller:

  • setup: “I went to get my car fixed”
  • pattern: “Whenever I do something like that, I’m amazed how expensive it is”
  • foreshadowing
  • characters
  • relatability
  • the twist

In informal conversations among people you don’t know well, he recommends to avoid talking about food, TV show plots, dreams, medical stories…


Words that are useful when trying to persuade someone:

  • “Because”: people are irrationally attracted to hearing that there’s a reason for something.
  • “Would you mind…”
  • “I’m not interested”: a great way to kill a conversation because there’s nothing the other guy can do to refute you.
  • “I don’t do that”
  • “I have a rule”
  • “I just wanted to clarify…”
  • “Is there anything you can do for me?” : good question for a service company you want to persuade
  • “Thank you”
  • “This is just between you and me”: people are predisposed to like you if you share a secret
  • Decisiveness
  • Energy
  • Insanity: appearing irrational is sometimes advantageous


  • Overcomplaining is never funny
  • Don’t overdo the self-deprecation
  • don’t mock people
  • avoid puns and wordplay

Women tend to laugh at stories that involve bad things happening to people, while men prefer traditional engineered stories (unlikely or surprising solution to something broken)

“My observation and best guess is that experts are right about 98 percent of the time on the easy stuff but only right 50 percent of the time on anything that is unusually complicated, mysterious, or even new.”

That’s the summary of my notes. I wouldn’t rate it a 5-star book – if you’re looking for the secrets of success then I recommend Cal Newport more – but it’s a readable and worthy contribution by an original thinker.