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

How To Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big summary “If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power.”

Rating: 8/10

Related: Win Bigly, Pre-Suasion, The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

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How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Short Summary

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is a narration of the life of Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind the wildly successful Dilbert comic. In the book, Adams shares his recipe for success and shows that even if the odds are stacked against you as they were for him, success is still attainable. An interesting and well-written book on the incredible life journey of one of the world’s most famous cartoonists.

Goals Vs Systems

If you want to be successful, choose systems over goals:

  • Systems are simple and repeatable
  • Goals are a means to an end

When you achieve goals, you are left feeling empty. But with systems, there is always something to do. Examples of systems include exercising daily while a goal might be to lose 10 pounds.

The question is: What happens when you lose 10 pounds? Then what?

With systems, you can fail lots of times but you can always count on an outcome. You will always have a follow-up.

“Over the years, I have cultivated a unique relationship with failure. I invite it. Survive it. I appreciate it. And then I mug the shit out of it.”

Passion Is Bullshit

Don’t bet your success on being passionate. Passion fades with time and increases the more successful you are.

In fact, it is hard to tell whether passionate people are passionate because they are successful or they are successful because they are passionate. 

“My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate.”

Success takes effort and if it were easy everyone would do it. This fact works for those who are willing to put in the work. Failure teaches you to look for areas where you have a natural advantage.

Most failures involve bad luck, ignorance, and sometimes stupidity but there are lessons in all of these.

Creating a System

Identify the odds. Some things are more likely than others and that’s just how the world works. But never assume that you understand the odds of things.

Have a general strategy and some degree of focus. The world will offer many alternatives.

You need a filter that will eliminate some options and allow you to focus on others.

“Successful people don’t wish for success; they decide to pursue it. And to pursue it effectively, they need a system. Success always has a price, but the reality is that the price is negotiable. If you pick the right system, the price will be a lot nearer what you are willing to pay.”

The Selfishness Illusion

Selfishness is good especially when you are starting your journey to success. You need to be selfish with your time and money. 

Being selfish is only bad when you become a burden on society.

“As a future or current rich person, you might pay far more than your share of taxes because of your selfish pursuit of income. Selfish successful people don’t cause worry and stress for those who care about them. As a selfish successful person, you can be a role model for others. Selfish successful people can be fun company if they’ve squirreled away all they need and have no complaints to voice.”

Taking care of your needs first is a moral necessity because the world needs you at your best. When you are struggling, being selfish is a great strategy.

The Energy Metric

Humans want many things. The only way to achieve all of them is by organizing your priorities. To organize your priorities, focus on one main metric: energy.

How to maximize your energy:

  • Eat right
  • Exercise
  • Avoid unnecessary stress
  • Get enough sleep

When you get your energy metric right, you will be excited to wake up and the quality of your work will be better. You will also be able to complete your work faster.

To maximize your energy, you can either be a simplifier or an optimizer:

  • A simplifier chooses the easiest path to a goal
  • The optimizer looks for the very best solution despite the increased complexity
“Optimizing is often the strategy of people who have specific goals and feel the need to do everything in their power to achieve them. Simplifying is generally the strategy of people who view the world in terms of systems.” “If the cost of failure is high, simple tasks are the best because they are easier to manage and control.”

Managing Your Attitude

“If you could control your attitude directly as opposed to letting the environment dictate how you feel on any given day, it would be like a minor superpower. It turns out you have that superpower. You can control your attitude by manipulating your thoughts, your body, and your environment.”

Attitude affects everything that you do in your quest for success and happiness. The way to manage your attitude is to understand that the brain can be programmed for success.

Increase your ratio of happy thoughts compared to negative thoughts. If your life doesn’t have much to offer in the form of happy thoughts, then try daydreaming.

“Putting yourself in that imagination-fueled frame of mind will pep you up. Imagination is the interface to your attitude.”

Smile often. Smiling will make you feel better even if your smile is fake. Also, act confidently. If you act confidently, you will feel confident.

Success Premium: once you become good at one thing, you will automatically become better at other things too.

“When you can release on your ego long enough to view your perceptions as incomplete or misleading, it gives you the freedom to imagine new and potentially more useful ways of looking at the world.”

Knowing When To Quit

People with world-class talent probably know it from an early age. To know whether you have an extra talent, think back on the things that you were obsessively doing by the age of 10.

Another way is to look at the tolerance for risk. Talented people are more likely to take on greater risks in the area of their talent.

For example:

Smart kids are likely to sneak books out of the library whereas they are averse to risk in other areas. While overcoming obstacles is central to success, you also need to know when to quit.

Managing Your Odds for Success

Success isn’t magic. Rather, it is the product of picking a good system and following it up until luck finds you.

The Success Formula: every skill that you acquire doubles your odds of success. The more concepts you learn, the easier it is to acquire new ones. Explaining what a horse is becomes easier if you already understand what a zebra looks like.

Success follows a pattern and if you find that you are always failing in what you do, there is a pattern behind that. Skills which every adult should develop at least a working knowledge:

  • Public speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business writing
  • Accounting
  • Design
  • Overcoming shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Proper grammar
  • Persuasion
  • Technology
  • Proper voice technique

Patterns for Success

  • Lack of fear
  • Education
  • Exercise

The lack of embarrassment makes one proactive. It makes one take on challenges that others are afraid to take on.

Affirmations are more of a psychological trick than they are scientific. But they work. Create a list of affirmations that envision a future for you.

“Affirmations are simply the practice of repeating to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want. You can write it, speak it, or just think it in sentence form. The typical form of an affirmation would be “I, Scott Adams, will become an astronaut.” The details of affirmations probably don’t matter much because the process is about improving your focus, not summoning magic.”

Success also depends on the kind of people that you associate yourself with. To change yourself, spend more time with people who represent the change that you seek.


The only reasonable goal in life is the pursuit of happiness. To pursue happiness, you need to understand the mechanisms of happiness. To be happy, you need to control the order and the timing of things.

“A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule.”

Build your imagination. If you need, imagine better things, a grander future for you to be happy. The happiness formula:

  • Eat right
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Imagine an incredible future (even if you don’t believe it)
  • Work toward a flexible schedule
  • Do things you can steadily improve at
  • Help others (if you’ve already helped yourself)
  • Reduce daily decisions to routine