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

Scott Adams is best known as the creator of the Dilbert comic strip.  In the 1990s and 2000s it was one of the most widely read and enjoyed parts of the common culture.  Every cubicle dweller in the western world could commiserate with the trials and tribulations of this geeky everyman.  Any engineer of whatever stripe could empathize with the bureaucratic idiocy that Dilbert navigates at every turn.

What people might be less aware of is that Scott Adams has written some other books that are more in the vein of self help.  I was unaware of it.  The only recent information I had about Adams was his commentary about Donald Trump’s candidacy.  Apparently he is somewhat on the right end of the spectrum (although his exact shade is not defined in the present book).  But through an article I read on his recent book I became interested to see what kind of advice I could get from Dilbert.

After reading this medium length book (~250 pages) I will say I’m very impressed.  It combines advice on health and career in a surprisingly integrated fashion.  Without regurgitating the details of the book he ties together diet, exercise, work, play, psychology, innovation, socialization and happiness into a coherent hierarchical plan.  The book is laid out into a narrative following the details of Scott’s life from his childhood on.  It shows how each of his various failed endeavors contributed to his understanding of what he was doing wrong and what he had learned.

I found the writing style funny and very readable.  What really surprised me was how convincing his arguments were.  I found myself agreeing with the logic of his perspective on a lot of these topics.  Most surprising was how enthusiastic I felt in response to this book.  Individually, none of these topics is profound.  But wrapping them together I think they provide a powerful stimulus to someone interested in enhancing his own peace of mind and prospects for a happy life.  There are all kinds of self help books out there.  Some better, some worse.  Scott Adams has written one for the everyman who is navigating a world filled with confusing, unhealthy and frivolous choices that distract us from what we need to do (and not do) to be happy.

Because of how positively I viewed the book I decided it was necessary to test my reaction by consulting with the most skeptical authority on life known to man, my wife.  I described the thesis of the book in short outline and she provided a rapid decision.  It was all just common sense.  I objected that the way the advice was presented made it much more valuable than Ben Franklin’s, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”  She still scoffed at my enthusiasm.

So there you have it.  It’s a man’s book.  Women are the ultimate pragmatists and have little use for common sense handbooks because they already live by simple rules that life dictates for them.  I guess men naturally think rules don’t apply to us and therefore allow us to defy common sense and make our own rules.  Fine.  But I think I did not sufficiently detail the sections of the book that addressed the advice on maximizing success and innovation.  Here I believe Scott captures some behaviors and ideas that are applicable to almost anyone who wants to break out of the hum-drum existence of modern day corporate life and build something of his own.  If I went over this with my wife I’m sure she’ll tell me it’s just another way of saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Damned pessimists.  Once I’m rich, powerful and famous she’ll change her tune.

Bravo, Scott Adams, bravo.