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

Scott Adams's take on how failure is a stepping stone to success

Published: Apr 8, 2014 07:21:27 AM IST
Updated: Apr 2, 2014 12:31:01 PM IST
Book Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Failure is the first step towards success. Most of us grew up with that adage, set in our brains by optimistic teachers or family elders who had some hopes that we will grow up and do something worthwhile.

Since childhood, our memories of failure have been sketched on our minds, and they refuse to fade. Every time we are in a spot, we scratch our heads and remember that this has happened to us for so long that our life is nothing but an almanac that collects failed experiments.

If this is what you think of yourself, then you have help. Scott Adams’s How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is the perfect book for you. It is not exactly a self-help book but a collection of his experiences where he failed big each time. But he did not stop at his failures. He learnt from them. For him, every failure was a step towards success.

Adams is known for Dilbert, the cartoon strip that makes fun of the boss as well as the employee.

He looks at his failures as a series of experiences, through which he keeps on trying different things till he manages to do something he really likes. In the process he discovers that success is not about creating goals and being passionate about what one wants to do. Success is actually about creating a foolproof system that one needs to work on every day.
In a chapter titled ‘Goals versus System’, he takes on big success stories head on. He talks about meeting someone who became a CEO at a very young age; he told Adams that he became a CEO because he was constantly looking for a better job. Adams figured that this CEO did not really have a goal in mind; he had created a system to simply look for a better job. In most cases, successful people create a system that beats passion every day. Adams is allergic to passion. He says, “Passionate people are more likely to take unlikely risks in the pursuits of unlikely goals and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate.”

But it is ‘The Math of Success’ that gives tips on how to skill yourself to do better at your job. He talks about public speaking, psychology, business writing, accounting, design and conversation as being some of the skills that are a must.

What really works for the book is that it is not preachy. It makes readers want more of Scott Adams with every page they read and, more importantly, the book has enough humour to keep the Dilbert fan entertained and a ‘Dilbert unaware’ reader satisfied.

The book is practical and is written with the idea of taking the reader forward. It doesn’t talk about magic formulas to live your life by, but to create a life that is fulfilling by being a part of a system a person needs to build for success. Since it is a Scott Adams book, there is a healthy dose of humour, although it is not a humourous book. Mostly, the writer makes fun of himself, but he knows when to stop. The beauty of the book is that you can’t really figure out when you are getting into a humourous anecdote or when you are getting out with a big learning. These are things that worked for Adams, and may work for most readers. But Adams is clear that he doesn’t want this to be a classic self-help book.

A less egotist Nassim Taleb would have ended up writing something similar.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Author: Scott Adams
Publisher: Portfolio
Price: Paperback: Rs 391;
hardcover: Rs 1,412
Pages: 256

(This story appears in the 18 April, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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