Feb 27, 2017 / Notes from a Scott Adams’ book

I am back!

What I decided was going to be a weekly project, is not being weekly at all. Last I sent this was on Jan 16. Today its Feb 26. A month + few days. And I have nothing but excuses for not doing this.

One of the hidden agendas of these emails was to make myself better — by reading more and by getting into debates with other likeminded people. And part of it was by being regular. I’ve failed on both the counts. But hey, stay with me. I am trying to be regular.

So this week, I will talk about this book I recently finished reading: How To Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win big by Scott Adams (the Dilbert guy). Yeah thats the title!

But before that, read Bill Gates’ amazing letter to Warren Buffet. I have read a lot of letter but nothing comes close to this. https://www.gatesnotes.com/2017-Annual-Letter.

Coming back to SA’s book. You may argue that its yet another piece of content that feeds to our lust for productivity porn. However unlike others, there are a few “street-smart” nuggets of wisdom, drawing heavily from his life as a cartoonist, entrepreneur and as someone who’s failed a lot in his life.

For example, dressing up well. Now I am someone who’s always had the wrong wardrobe. If you know me, you will know of my loathing for shoes. And the love for shorts. A recipe perfect for disaster. I know that you know that we are really old machines and we have reached here by taking shortcuts when we faced uncertainty (evolution, fight or flight). So, when we meet strangers, we look at how they look, how they dress and how they behave to take a call if we like them or not. And then, all in further interactions, we find evidence to support our initial hypothesis about the strangers. SA says that if you dress well, you automatically improve your chances for success.

Anyhow. Lemme list 7 things that I am taking away from the book. Oh, its a brilliant and breezy read. You may want to get a copy here.

Coming to the list,

1. Have systems. Not goals.

To put mildly, he says, have a system rather than goals. His actual words are “Goals are for losers.”

Example: Lose 20 KGs is a goal. But eating right is a system.

Look at it as process vs outcome thing. You put in place a great process (system) and outcome (goal) automatically happens.

Want to lose weight? The process is to eat right, workout daily.

Want to earn more? Talk to 5 people everyday.

Want to write a book? Write 500 words everyday.

Want to be lucky? BELIEVE that you are lucky and be on a constant lookout for opportunities.

Want to be more likeable? Dress well! (take a note Mr. Garg) Etc etc.

This fits well with how I think. I have always pondered that if I reach the goal, whats the next thing to work on? Higher goal? Higher than the higher goal? To what end? Rather have a system and take time perfecting it. So, goals merely become side effects of what you anyway do in your daily life (system).

And if we look around, there are tons of examples! Look at the black turtleneck of Steve Jobs. Or grey round-neck tee on Zuck. Or people ordering the same thing over and over again.

The finer point in the systems approach is that the system ought to make your chances of success better. Each iteration of the system has to make you better / stronger. Compare it to a goal-led approach. Everytime you miss the mark, you are killing yourself about the failure and inability to meet the goal. You go down that spiral. With systems, you are training yourself to be stronger and better.

2. Get selfish

He says that if you are selfish and program yourself to do well, you become a net contributor to society. This does not mean you become a jerk (he has these categories to classify jerks in, pretty neat actually). But means that you work on yourself before you work on others. Like they say in planes — in case of emergency, wear your mask first and then help others.

So, before you start contributing to charity, before you start thinking of helping others, be at a place where you are not worried about yourself. In terms of Maslow’s pyramid, you better be up there on the top before you decide to take the plunge to help others.

3. Jack of all trades trumps master of one

Again, something that I love — being a polymath. Not that I am one but I would want to be!

Ok, not a polymath per se but being good at multiple things. This is in direct contrast with the expert phenomenon. Or the recent T-shaped profiles that seems to be in vogue.

SA says that if you are good at two things, more often than not, you can marry the two and be amazing (and often, the only person) to do both together. For example, if you are “good” at sketching and “good” at humor, you may not earn a living with either. But club the two, you could be Scott Adams!

Also, this is like a system. You continuously learn new things. Identify the ones that you get good it. See where all does it intersect. See point 1.

4. Persistence pays

SA give this analogy about slot machines. He says that imagine life like a slot machine when you are expected to pull levers all the time and unlike the ones in casino, you dont have to put in the money. So, if you pull the lever enough times, hitting the jackpot is inevitable (remember the Infinite Monkey Theorem?). Just that people get tired, bored, discouraged etc along the way.

All you need is persistence and you will get what you chase.

5. Personal Energy

Call it Chi, call it the feeling of feeling good. Or call it anything else. We as humans ought to maximize it. We ought to identify what sucks our energy and what makes it greater. And then, do the less of former and more of later (system). And then keep pulling the lever of the slot machine (persistence).

For example, I hate the time I am forced to spend stuck in traffic. So, I try to reach work at 8 (less traffic) and leave from work at 4:30 (again, less traffic). It works wonders — saves time, physical energy, money and resources for the world. What all do you routinely do that takes away your energy?

SA also says that while time remains the most important resource that we have, its the energy that we ought to maximise. What are your energy sources and sinks?

6. Success and Passion

So this is something that I dont agree with.

SA says passion often is lousy excuse to choose to do things. Also, apparently, we tend to mistake success for passion. He says, if you are good at Basketball, you WILL eventually get passionate about it. However, you may be passionate about the sport but you may not always succeed at it.

He takes example of American Idol — the winners have to be passionate to go through the grind of the participating in the finals, gruelling rounds, breakneck preparation etc etc. SA then says, what about the stadium-full of people that come for the trials and do not even make it to the prelims? Were they not passionate? And if they were, then out of all the passionate people, just one seems to succeed.

Again, I dont agree with this. But may be there is something in this. Would love to hear your opinion.

7. Manufacture luck

To SA, luck is like the Elephant in the room. Every successful person knows that luck has played a key role in the success (probably a large role) but very few admit to it. And he believes that luck can be manufactured. He gives an example. If you know that sure shot way to get success is to get hit by a lightening bolt, what would you do? You ought to tie those lightening rods and go to a place that statistically gets more lightening strikes than where you currently are. Similarly, if you want to be an author, where would you go so that you find an ecosystem conducive for your to get discovered?

Again a corollary of his systems piece.

So yeah! Thats it from Scott Adams. In case you want to explore, see this talk where he does a better job of summarising his book. He has just three takeaways when he talks — systems, energy and luck!

And with that, its a wrap of this week’s edition. Good to be back! Lemme know what you think of this. Lemme know how to improve.

Finally, thank you for being with me. Means a lot!