A Cartoonist’s Recipe For A Successful And Happy Life

Life lessons from the man behind the Dilbert comics, Scott Adams.

Note : This post is a collection of ideas from the book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams. It includes a lot of direct quotes from the book. And is only written with an intention to retain what I’ve learned. At times, if you’re unable to understand anything, that will mainly be me, and my inability to make sense.

The Success Formula : Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odd For Success.

When in doubt, learn a new skill.


Throughout his corporate career, Scott seized every opportunity to learn a new skill (on the expense of his employer). From a Dale Carnegie course in public speaking to writing lessons in business, he gathered the knowledge on everything he could get his hands on.

His motivation?

To learn anything that could help him in the future.

Notice that he didn’t plan on doing something in particular with those skills. Instead he was saving them for a rainy day.

So if you have the time and resources to develop a new skill. Use them. The idea isn’t to strive for perfection. Go on and continue practicing your art. But think of these as extra benefits that could help you stand out from the crowd. Someday benefit you in an inconceivable fashion.

A writer who learned to draw (the ideas he wants to convey).

Or a painter who learned to write (beautiful descriptions).

A gym trainer who learned to dance.

Or a dance teacher who’s also a fitness enthusiast.

You can also very well take a class in calligraphy. And then go on to make the iPhone.

Here Are A Few Skills For Everyone To Learn :

  • Public speaking

In a section about Tony Robbins in the book ‘Tools of Titans’, by Tim Ferriss,

When Tony asked Warren Buffett what his all time best investment was, the answer was a Dale Carnegie public speaking course, taken at age 20.

The next time time you listen to a TED talk, or a stand up comedian, don’t just pay attention to what they’re saying. But also notice their body language, try to observe them as they master the art of public speaking.

There’s quite a possibility that they are scared as well.

The fear of public speaking scares the best of the artists in any field.

They are just better at pretending.

But, without a doubt, also better at practicing.

  • Conversation

But how to start one?

All you have to do is introduce yourself and ask some questions until you find a point of mutual interest.

Here are the questions Scott learned in the Dale Carnegie course :

  1. What’s your name?
  2. Where do you live?
  3. Do you have a family?
  4. What do you do for a living?
  5. Do you have any hobbies/sports?
  6. Do you have any travel plans?

Do not try to get into a funny mode as soon as you meet someone. Majority of the general population do not want to get into joking mode with a stranger. And the few others, they are not going to appreciate your sense of humor. More or less, they would want you to go away. Humor although, is among one of the most useful skills to have. But there’s a correct time for everything.

If people are already attracted towards you. Then consider not talking a lot. Let them do the talking.

If and when you have to tell a sad story or a medical one, try to keep it short and change the topic soon afterwards. Do not make it awkward for the others.

Become a good storyteller. One that tells short, interesting stories.

  • Overcome shyness.
Remind yourself that your own flaws aren’t that bad compared with everyone else’s…Some people just hide them better…The more you put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations, the easier they all become.
  • Business Writing : The Day You Became a Better Writer
  • Read books on psychology and persuasion to gain a basic understanding of these concepts.
  • Understand the point of having a proper voice technique. (This is something that comes up in a lot of books).
  • Learn to apply a few design tricks.
  • Learn accounting even if you don’t have to handle it yourself. Otherwise things will remain confusing. Same with technology. The idea (with any skill) is to not be the only person in the room who doesn’t understand the topic.

Don’t Be An Asshole.

(Now you might be wondering who needs this sort of an advice.)

And since you already know why not to be an asshole, we should focus on how not to be one.

According to Scott here’s a list of asshole behaviours :

  • Dominating the conversation.
  • (By) Changing the subject to themselves.
  • (And often) Bragging.
  • Cheating. Lies.
  • Disagreeing with any suggestion.

Every discussion with them is an argument. And they refuse to change their stance even when provided with facts against their beliefs.

  • Using honesty as a justification for cruelty.

When (honestly) they are only being a dick about it.

  • Withholding simple favours out of some warped sense of social justice.
  • Abandoning the rules of civil behaviour, such as saying hello, or making eye contact.

Have Systems In Place Of Goals

In a chapter called Goals Versus Systems, Scott argues about the importance of having systems in place of goals. But first of all we need to understand the difference between the two terms,

A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, its a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

Scott goes on to the extent to suggest that goals are for losers and systems are all we need.

And I hate it when writers do this.

If you have an idea, there are better ways to share it.

For example, there was another chapter titled “Passion Is Bullshit”. And all he wanted to suggest was that there are factors other than passion that are important for success.

Alright. So just list them!

But then maybe I’m wrong, and this is what writing is all about. To capture the readers’ attention with any attractive label you can find.

Anyway I’ve trimmed down to the essence of the idea (Also I have nothing against the book. In fact I loved it). Developing systems is important, and here’s why,

Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn…That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

So if your goal is to become a programmer, then code. Put a system in place, a few lines of code everyday.

I know it sounds obvious. It is obvious. But we need to nudge ourselves with the obvious every now and then.

And while we are at it, here’s the difference between wishing and deciding.

Deciding Versus Wanting

There’s a price for everything.

But it’s not to be paid with the same currency.

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…When you decide to be successful in a big way, it means you acknowledge the price and you’re willing to pay it…Success always has a price, but the reality is that the price is negotiable.

So attend to your systems everyday and you’re all set up.

Know When To Quit

Phil Knight, the creator of Nike, in his memoir ‘Shoe Dog’ has said,

Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.

But how to know when to quit?

Here’s an interesting piece of advice from Seth Godin, which he calls ‘First Ten’,

You’ve made up your mind and you’ve started to build what you always wanted to build. But you’re unsure about the potential of your creation.

Don’t worry.

Just take the early drafts and,

Tell ten people, show ten people, share it with ten people; ten people who already trust you and already like you. If they don’t tell anybody else, it’s not that good and you should start over. If they do tell other people, you’re on your way.

This is one of the easiest piece of advice you can try right now to track if you’re on the right path.

Affirmations (Pick the delusion that works)

Affirmations are related to the concept of visualization, in a sense that they help you to focus.

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 think it in sentence form. The typical form of an affirmation would be. “I, Scott Adams, will become an astronaut.”

In another chapter, Scott said, “If you manage your illusions wisely, you might get what you want, but you won’t necessarily understand why it worked.”

So write down your goals and affirmations.

Repeat them to yourself everyday.

Imagine great results. Do not wait for them. But visualize them.

How To Take Care Of Your Happiness : The Happiness Formula

Scott believes the primary reason behind our bad moods is the lack of one, or a combination of these : flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet, and exercise.

I wasn’t expecting to learn about the health part when I picked up this book. And generally these parts are what makes a book boring. But refreshingly, I found the advice (albeit the same old one) in this book to be on the interesting side.

Here’s the happiness formula in ten quick points,

  1. Eat right.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Imagine an incredible future.
  5. Work towards a flexible schedule.
  6. Pick things you can steadily improve at (and put systems in place).
  7. Help others (charity begins at home).
  8. Reduce daily decisions to routine.

I will not dive too much into the details of these at this point in time.

I loved the section on diet, about eating habits and how we can be lazy and yet take care of what we eat.

You already know the importance of exercise. So start with the least you can do and push yourself a little more every day.

And if you don’t prioritize your sleep above everything else, there’s nothing that’s going to help you. Always get enough sleep.

Use visualization and affirmations to up your imagination game.

Flexible schedule is one topic Tim Ferriss has wrote an entire book about. It’s called The 4 Hour Work Week. Everyone should read it. For starters its subtitle says ‘Escape the 9–5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich’.

Practice a few skills everyday.

And once you have started helping yourself and your cause. Try to give it back to the world.

Don’t be the person who argues that routines are boring. Because they are doing it all wrong. It’s about choosing among the attractive options available in life and what you want to do at any given point in time. Routine helps you to reduce your decisions which frees up important space inside your head.

So now that you know the recipes for success and happiness, you can reevaluate your choices and make the right decisions to improve your life.

Please click on the green heart icon below if you found this article interesting. In case you have any advice for me, share it in the response section.

Here’s a post about what I learned from another interesting book I read : Drop Down Conformity And Hop On Creativity.