Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Authors are strange and irrational creatures. Ask any author with multiple books out which book they wrote they like the most, and they almost invariably point at their worst selling book. For instance, Douglas Adams was very fond of his one non-fiction book, Last Chance to See. I myself am not immune to this, and despite every other book of mine being much more successful, and having been less work to write, Independent Cycle Touring is still easily my favorite.

How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big, is by Scott Adams' account, his least successful book. Therefore he spends every other blog post touting the book despite its apparent failure. I succumbed to his marketing spiel, and of course, checked it out of the library, because I'm a cheap skate and I work that way.

Part autobiography, the book is exceedingly easy to read. I'll summarize a few main points:

  1. Processes and Systems are more important than goals.
  2. Affirmation works (surprisingly well), but he has no idea why.
  3. To be able to help others or contribute to society, you need to take care of yourself. That means that the following should be your highest priority: exercise, diet, and optimizing your personal energy level.
  4. Success depends very much on luck. It's very difficult to become successful by being world class at one or two skills. You have much better chances by learning multiple skills, and being the only person who can combine those skills in a package.
  5. Certain skills are particularly important: public speaking, business writing, a knowledge of practical, applied psychology, understanding basic technology, social skills, proper voice technique, good grammar, and basic accounting.
  6. You can reprogram your mind to do anything. Humans are not rational, and if you think of your brain as being subject to being able to be reprogrammed, you'll be able to do things that others routinely find difficult.
  7. Drink coffee. It lets you regulate your energy cycle deliberately, has many health benefits, (chiefest of which is that it puts you in the mood for exercise) and few side effects even if you become addicted.
The most comparable I've read on this topic is John T Reed's Succeeding, which I enjoyed. This book is much cheaper, but it's also much less practical when it comes to dating methods, for instance, or risk analysis, but they both come out on the same things, which is that process and systems are critically important.

The biggest weakness of Adams' book is that he's a smart guy, but he doesn't point out how important geographical location was, despite his success depending entirely on it. He mentioned moving to the Bay Area early on in his career, and his resulting career couldn't have succeeded without that move. You should always move to a location that's appropriate to your talents as much as possible.

In any case, Reed's book is much better, more detailed, and more likely to be of practical use to the average person, but Adams' book is funnier, cheaper, and probably more accessible. In any case, the book is smart and well written and worth your time.

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