How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams in 5 minutes

If you liked these notes, buy the book on Amazon.

Blake Fletcher
5 min readJun 16, 2017

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In the words of Scott Adams, “This is the story of one person’s unlikely success within the context of scores of embarrassing failures. I pushed a conscious strategy of managing my opportunities in a way that would make it easier for luck to find me.”

Failure always brings something valuable with it — don’t let it leave until you extract value from it. Grab failure by the throat and squeeze it until it coughs up a hairball of success.

Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure — the trick is to get the good stuff out. If success were easy, everyone would achieve it. It takes effort. That fact works to your advantage because it keeps lazy people out of the game.

View failure as a tool, not an outcome. You want your failures to make you stronger, of course, but you also want to become smarter, more talented, better networked, healthier, and more energized.

A book tease

  1. Goals are for losers.
  2. The most important metric you can track is your personal energy.
  3. Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.
  4. Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
  5. Luck can be managed, sort of.
  6. Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way).
  7. Happiness is health plus freedom.

Goals versus systems

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers.

  1. A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you.
  2. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the future. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

Focus on just one main metric: your personal energy.

Make choices that maximize your personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities: good health, financial freedom, accomplishment, a great social life, love, sex, recreation, travel, family, career and more.

When you get your personal energy right, the quality of your work is better, and you can complete it faster.

By becoming a person with good energy you lift the people around you. Maximizing your personal energy is doing anything that gives you a positive lift, mentally or physically. Ideally, you want to manage our personal energy for the long term and the big picture.

Simplifying versus optimizing

Some people are what I call simplifiers and some are optimizers:

  • A simplifier will prefer the easy way to accomplish a task, while knowing that some amount of extra effort might have produced a better outcome. Simple, foolproof plans allow your heart to beat normally and your mind to wander toward blissful thoughts.
  • An optimizer looks for the very best solution even if the extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems. Optimizing requires full concentration.

Simplify by chipping away at the the complexity of your life over time. When you start asking questions, you often discover that there’s a simple solution.

Every skill you acquire doubles your chances of success.

The success formula in its simplest form: Good + Good > Excellent.

When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality. Learn skills that compliment your other meagre talents. Even if none of your skills are world-class, if combined, they can become a powerful market force.

Become a learning machine. If you think something might someday be useful, try to at least grasp the basics. Learn as much as you can in different fields. The more concepts you understand, the easier it is to learn new ones.

A list of of the skills in which every adult should gain a working knowledge:

  • Public speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business writing
  • Accounting
  • Design (the basics)
  • Conversation
  • Overcoming shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Proper grammar
  • Persuasion
  • Technology (hobby level)
  • Proper voice technique

You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from a game with low odds of success to a game with better odds.

The hard part is figuring out the odds of any given game, and that’s harder than it looks. We may all think we know the odds in life, but there’s a good chance we have some blind spots. Finding these blind spots is a big deal.

The biggest component of luck is timing.

Put yourself in a position where luck is more likely to happen. Be thoroughly prepared when luck does find you.

I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money it. All it asks for is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. It’s a slot machine that has rare yet certain payoffs — you’re a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. You can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.

The secret to overcoming shyness is imagining you are acting instead of interacting.

Shyness is caused by an internal feeling that you are not worthy to be in the conversation. When you feel shyness coming on keep in mind that most people feel awkward in social situations at least some of the time. The single best tip for avoiding shyness involves harnessing the power of acting interested in other people.

The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.

Happiness is a feeling you get when your body chemistry is producing pleasant sensations in your mind.

The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. You need to control the order and timing of things to be happy. You can transform work into pleasure simply by having control over when you do it.

The next important mechanism for happiness has to do more with where you’re heading than where you are. We tend to feel happy when things are moving in the right direction and unhappy when things are trending bad. Take up a sport or hobby that leaves you plenty of room to improve every year. The feeling of progress stimulate your body to create the chemicals that make you feel happy.

The next element of happiness you need to master is imagination. I find it useful to daydream that the future will be better than today, by far. Don’t let reality control your imagination. Let your imagination be the user interface to steer your reality.

Happiness is the natural state for most people whenever they feel healthy, have flexible schedules, and expect the future to be good.

Again, if you like these notes, do buy the book on Amazon. If you want to be a highlighting hero, send your book notes to blake@talkpluto.com.

My name is Blake, I live in Toronto, Canada and I’m working on Pluto.

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Blake Fletcher

Founder, Pluto | I’m endlessly fascinated by the intersection of humanity and technology. | www.talkpluto.com