How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Summary

One Paragraph Summary By changing your perspective on failure and living a life of constant learning and improvement, you can turn your failure into one big success, says Scott Adams, the creator of the famous and loved Dilbert comic.

Scott Adams, the creator of the famous comic strip Dilbert, said that he failed way more often than succeeded. He also claims that without his failures, he would never have had any success.

In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, the author shows us how we can learn from our failures. He even encourages us to fail in many different areas to learn and grow.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Summary

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big—Kind of the Story of My Life
A book by Scott Adams

  By writing this book summary, I learned the following three things:

  • Setting goals without creating supporting systems is useless
  • Combining different skills can give you one superpower
  • You should use associate energy

Key Ideas

The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success―Scott Adams

When you set goals also create a corresponding system

You can read about the importance of goals in almost every book about self-improvement or productivity.

But goals can be problematic. When you set goals, everybody will tell you that goals need to be specific and need a due date.

Imagine you have the goal to reduce your body fat from 22% to 18% to become more fit by your next birthday. This is a pretty clear goal; it is specific and has a due date. Say, on your next birthday you measure your body fat, and you will discover that you have 19% body fat. You will feel like you will have failed.

There is another problem with setting goals. The goal will not tell you how to achieve the desired outcome.

Therefore it is much better to support your goal with a system. In the book The Power of Habit, you can learn about so-called keystone habits. Keystone habits are, for example, tracking your food consumption. Another keystone habit is exercising.

If you create a process to exercise each day, this will become a keystone habit, that will put you on the right path.

A significant advantage of processes is that they are grounded in the now. You need to take action now. A method is a path that will bring you the desired outcome.

A goal is not more than a wish for the desired outcome. A process, on the other hand, is a clear path that will bring you the desired result.

Develop a general competence in many different fields

Most of us have been raised to become specialists. Adams claims that if you want to become successful, it is a much better approach to avoid becoming a specialist. Instead, you should try to learn many different skills. The combination of these skills will make you stand out in a crowd of specialists.

Adams thinks that his success can be attributed to the many skills he developed over time, although he did not master any particular skill. He did not master the art of writing; neither did he master the skill of drawing. But the combination of those two skills made his comic a success.

Developing many skills increases your market value.

Identify and combine your special skills

You can produce something extraordinary by combining your unique skills. To do this, you need first to identify what your exceptional skills are.

Are you obsessed with certain things? Do you maintain a hobby since your childhood days? Do you practice something where taking risks came naturally to you? These might all be the things you have trained your unique skills in. Take the time to identify the items where you are unique.

The second step to producing something extraordinary is to combine the various special skills you have.

For Scott Adams, this has been drawing, his humor, and his minted observation skills.

Combing your different skills is certainly not easy; it needs time and trying out different skills. Regardless of what you do, it should be enjoyable and train your skills even further.

Location and energy

According to Adams, if you want to do good work, it is vital to keep an eye on your energy level and on the location where you do your activities.

For example, you can prime yourself when you have specific locations for certain activities. Your bed, for example, is not the right place to work, but it is an excellent location to sleep.

The same applies to other spaces. You should not work in your living room or at the pool. These are areas where you usually seek relaxation.

So when you are a writer, have a place where you write. When you sit down in that location, your mind and body will be ready to work.

Another important topic when it comes to doing great work is to watch your energy levels. We are all different. We need to monitor our energy levels closely. Find out when you are most creative and have the most energy, and when working comes easy to you. Find your natural rhythm and follow it.

When you have been forced to eat at a specific time as a kid, even if you weren't hungry, you know that it is stupid to follow some else's schedule. Find your rhythm and follow it.

It is also a good idea to find activities that give you energy and avoid those activities that drain it.

Diet and exercise

We all know how important exercise is for our energy levels for our mood and well-being. You need to make exercising part of your daily routine. To make this easier, find out the perfect time to exercise and make working out a priority. Joining forces with a friend might be a good idea. Again, try different things to find out what makes it easy for you to stick to your regimen.

Like exercise, food is vital to improve your energy levels. Particular food is energizing while other food sucks energy from you. For example, processed carbs are bad for your overall energy levels; you should avoid eating it. Adams likes to say: food is mood.

Use delusions to your advantage

We consider delusions to be a bad thing, and we usually try to rid ourselves of them. As strange as it sounds, you can create delusions which will help you to get what you want.

Take Scott Adams's approach, for example. He used an affirmation before he created the Dilbert comic which has worked wonders for him:

I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.

He used this statement several times during a day for many years.

Yes, there is no scientific proof that an affirmation works. But if you think about it, it is not hard to discover its value. An affirmation can be a constant reminder of your top priority, which will help you to make the necessary work consistently to achieve what you seek.

First Insight: Setting goals without creating supporting systems is useless

The surest way to identify those who won't succeed at weight loss is that they tend to say things like, "My goal is to lose ten pounds." Weight targets often work in the short run. But if you need willpower to keep the weight off, you're doomed in the long run. The only way to succeed in the long run is by using a system that bypasses your need for willpower.―Scott Adams

Supporting goals with processes is probably one of the most valuable insights I got from writing over thirty book summaries.

Goals might be even detrimental to what you are trying to achieve. Take the example from the quote above. Say you are overweight and want to address the problem.

You have read all about goals. Therefore you know that your goal needs to be smart:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

You set your goal that fulfills all listed criteria: I want to lose 10 pounds in the next six months.

Now you have a good goal. Still, you have no idea how to achieve it. How will you achieve your goal? If you cannot answer that question, you will not have reached your goal in six months.

Having a goal is not bad. It tells you what you want to have achieved at a certain point in the future. But it is more important to think about the path that will lead you to that goal. Sure, willpower will help you to lose some pounds in the first couple of weeks, but it will be hard to foster the necessary willpower over six months.

Find the process that will bring you to the desired outcome. Then follow the process. Form good habits. Then you even can forget the goal altogether and would still reach it.

Second Insight: Combining different skills can give you one superpower

Avoid career traps such as pursuing jobs that require you to sell your limited supply of time while preparing you for nothing better.―Scott Adams

The author claims that he has not mastered one skill, but developed many skils to an above-average level. He didn't want to become world-class in a single skill but tried to learn many different skills. Here is a list of skills Adams considers to be particularly valuable:

  • Public Speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business Writing
  • Accounting
  • Design
  • Conversation
  • Overcoming Shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Grammar
  • Persuasion
  • Technology
  • Voice technique

If you become above-average on each of these skills and combine it with the unique skills you already have, then you will stand out in every group of specialists.

Third Insight: You should use associate energy

In most groups, the craziest person is in control. It starts because no one wants the problems that come from pissing off a crazy person. It's just smarter and easier sometimes to let the crazy person have his or her way.―Scott Adams

Have you ever noticed how infectious moods are? An obnoxious comment from your spouse can ruin your whole day.

Luckily this also works the other way around. You probably had felt the energy rising in your body when a total stranger smiled at you.

You can use this so-called associate energy to your advantage by surrounding yourself with people you want to be like.


Scott Adams has many useful tips for us to grow. Some are listed in other self-help books: the importance of exercise, a healthy diet, managing your energy levels, and surrounding yourself with the right people. But he also shares with us some tips which you will not find in any other book. For example, you will learn how you can stand out in a crowd of specialists and use delusions, like affirmations, to your advantage.


  • Don't be a specialist; try to master many different skills instead
  • Replace your goals with systems
  • Increase your market value by learning many skills
  • Improve your grammar, vocal techniques, technological fluency, and conversation skills
  • Embrace failure as it allows you to grow
  • Try to become a Jack of all trades
  • Find your unique skills and combine them to produce something extraordinary
  • Identify your unique skills
  • Never work where you relax
  • Find energizing activities
  • Determine when you are at your best
  • Avoid bad food like processed carbs
  • Spice up healthy but boring food with butter, pepper, etc.
  • Create and use an affirmation to work towards your top priority in life
  • Use associate energy to your advantage

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Summary—related resources

  Read more about Scott Adams on Wikipedia.

Scott Adams has written several other books, his latest being Loserthink. He seems to have stopped writing on his blog but launched a new website called Scott Adams Says.

Get FREE access to all of my book summary PDFs.

If you liked reading the How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Summary, you should also read The Miracle Morning Summary.

Posted on CuteMachine in career, personal development, personal growth, productivity and self-improvement.

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