Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big - by Scott Adams

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big - by Scott Adams

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Random assortment of life tips/hacks from the creator of Dilbert. Interesting common thread of making your life a system for increasing your odds at success. But I liked the random tips, too.

my notes

Goals are for losers.

Your mind isn’t magic. It’s a moist computer you can program.

The most important metric to track is your personal energy.

Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.

Happiness is health plus freedom.

Luck can be managed, sort of.

Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way).

Fitness is the lever that moves the world.

Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.

When tackling any new and complicated problem, one step you will always do first: ask a smart friend how he or she tackled the same problem.

Some companies take the goal of profits too far. But that is the risk of any tool. A hammer is good only if you stop pounding after the nail is all the way in. Keep pounding and you break the wood.

You can cure your loneliness only by doing the talking yourself and - most important - being heard.

When you stand in front of an audience, your sensation of time is distorted. That’s why inexperienced presenters speak too rapidly.

Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value.

Never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. He’s in business for the wrong reason. The best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet.

It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, but they drain your passion as they fail.

In hindsight, it looks as if the projects I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

Have a system instead of a goal. Systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.

Running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system.

**** → 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, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

Buying lottery tickets is not a system no matter how regularly you do it.

Sell a service that almost always auto-renews.

The world offers so many alternatives that you need a quick filter to eliminate some options and pay attention to others. Whatever your plan, focus is always important.

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.

Success has a price, but the price is negotiable. If you pick the right system, the price will be a lot nearer what you’re willing to pay.

If you learn to appreciate the power of systems over goals, it might lower the price of success just enough to make it worth a go.

When it comes to generosity, there are three kinds of people in the world:
1. Selfish
2. Stupid
3. Burden on others
That’s the entire list. Your best option is to be selfish, because being stupid or a burden on society won’t help anyone. Society hopes you will handle your selfishness with some grace and compassion. If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society. Successful people generally don’t burden the world. Corporate raiders, overpaid CEOs, and tyrannical dictators are the exceptions.

The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career, and still spending quality time with your family and friends. If you neglect your health or your career, you slip into the second category - stupid - which is a short slide to becoming a burden on society.

Generous people take care of their own needs first. In fact, doing so is a moral necessity. The world needs you at your best.

Being selfish doesn’t mean being a sociopath. It just means you take the long view of things.

Once all of my personal needs were met, my thoughts automatically turned to how I could make the world a better place. Apparently humans are wired to take care of their own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world.

Approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main metric: your energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities. Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up.

Blogging charges me up. It gets me going. I don’t need another reason.

Manage your personal energy for the long term and the big picture. Having one more cocktail at midnight might be an energy boost at the time, but you pay for it double the next day.

As I write this paragraph, my wife and our good friends are wondering why I’m selfishly lagging behind. But everyone will appreciate that I’m in a better mood when I show up.

You can accomplish more by the time other people wake up than most people accomplish all day.

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. The best systems are simple, and for good reason.

Simple systems are probably the best way to achieve success. Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value. Successful people and successful businesses have the luxury of being able to optimize toward perfection over time. Start-ups often do better by slapping together something that is 80 percent good and seeing how the public responds. There’s time to improve things later if the market cares about the product.

Another big advantage of simplification is that it frees up time, and time is one of your most valuable resources in the world.

When you are trying to decide between optimizing and simplifying, think of your entire day, not the handful of tasks in question. In other words, maximize your personal energy, not the number of tasks.

Chip away at the complexity of your life over time. Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal. That’s how you will free your personal energy so you can concentrate it where you need it.

Dedicate certain sitting positions and certain work spaces to work and other spaces to relaxation.

To change how you feel, and how you think, you can simply change where you are sitting.

One of the biggest obstacles to success - and a real energy killer - is the fear that you don’t know how to do the stuff that your ideal career plans would require.

Success at anything has a spillover effect on other things.

Becoming good at things that require nothing but practice. Once you become good at a few unimportant things, the habit of success stays with you on more important quests. When you’ve tasted success, you want more. And the wanting gives you the sort of energy that is critical to success.

My so-called talent was little more than the result of insane hours of practice.

Writing a book is hard. The way I motivate myself to take on a task this large is by imagining that I have fascinating and useful things to say that will help people. I choose to imagine that the book will do well because that illusion is highly motivating. It increases my energy.

What were my odds of being the first person on earth to beat a focal dystonia? One in a million? One in ten million? I didn’t care. That one person was going to be me. Thanks to my odd life experiences, and odder genes, I’m wired to think things will work out well for me no matter how unlikely it might seem.

Things that will someday work out well start out well. Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way.

Watch what customers do about your idea or product, not what they say. People tend to say what they think you want to hear. What people do is far more honest.

If the first commercial version of your work excites no one to action, it’s time to move on to something different. Don’t be fooled by the opinions of friends and family.

If your work inspires some excitement and some action from customers, get ready to chew through some walls. You might have something worth fighting for.

If you’re not a natural “practicer,” don’t waste time pursuing a strategy that requires it.

You’re not doomed to mediocrity. You simply need to pick a life strategy that rewards novelty seeking more than mindless repetition.

Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.

You can raise your market value by being merely good - not extraordinary - at more than one skill.

Sometimes an entirely inaccurate formula is a handy way to move you in the right direction if it offers the benefit of simplicity.

Ask yourself if there are any words in your first draft that you would be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each.

If I told you that taking a class in Web site design during your evenings might double your odds of career success, the thought would increase the odds that you would act. If instead I only offered you a vague opinion that acquiring new skills is beneficial, you wouldn’t feel particularly motivated. When you accept without necessarily believing that each new skill doubles your odds of success, you effectively hack (trick) your brain to be more proactive in your pursuit of success. Looking at the familiar in new ways can change your behavior even when the new point of view focuses on the imaginary.

Another huge advantage of learning as much as you can in different fields is that the more concepts you understand, the easier it is to learn new ones.

“If you play a slot machine long enough, eventually you will...” The class yelled out in unison “WIN!” As most adults know, that is exactly the wrong answer. Slot machines are engineered to make everyone but the casino a loser in the long run. They confused the benefits of persistence with the actual odds of succeeding.

While we all think we know the odds in life, there’s a good chance you have some blind spots. Finding those blind spots is a big deal.

See the world as math and not magic.

To increase your odds of success, systematically become good, but not amazing, at the types of skills that work well together and are highly useful for just about any job.

* Public speaking
* Psychology
* Business writing
* Accounting
* Design (the basics)
* Conversation
* Overcoming shyness
* Second language
* Golf
* Proper grammar
* Persuasion
* Technology (hobby level)
* Proper voice technique

Children are accustomed to a continual stream of criticisms and praise, but adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring criticism both at work and at home. Adults are starved for a kind word.

Knowledge is power. But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power.

If your view of the world is that people use reason for their important decisions, you are setting yourself up for a life of frustration and confusion.

Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.

Brains are wired to better understand concepts that are presented in a certain order. For example, your brain processes “The boy hit the ball” more easily than “The ball was hit by the boy.” In editors’ jargon, the first sentence is direct writing and the second is passive. It’s a tiny difference, but over the course of an entire document, passive writing adds up and causes reader fatigue.

Unnecessary words and passive writing kill the timing of humor the same way they kill the persuasiveness of your point.

Be able to create your own cash-flow projection on a spreadsheet and feel some confidence that you understand the tax impacts and the so-called time value of money.

There’s a tiny restaurant that has changed hands several times. They can’t work because there aren’t enough tables in the place to cover their expenses.

One need not have an “eye” for design; knowing the rules is good enough.

### STORY:

As a writer, I reflexively translate whatever I observe into a story form with a setup, a twist if there is one, and some sort of punch line or thought that ties it in a bow.

Turn your interesting experiences into story form. brief? save the surprise for just the right moment? end the story with a punch line or interesting observation?

The most important key to good storytelling is preparation.

Story setup: Keep it really brief, as in “So, I took my car in for a brake job...” That’s it. Don’t tell us the problem with the brakes.

Establish a pattern that your story will violate.

Leave some clues about where the story is going. The foreshadowing can happen as early as the setup.

Brief character profile is essential to any story that involves people.

Pick story topics that your listeners will relate to.

People drift off when you stop talking about stuff that isn’t them.

Your story isn’t a story unless something unexpected or unusual happens. That’s the plot twist. If you don’t have a twist, it’s not a story.



Figure out which people are thing people and which ones are people people. Thing people enjoy hearing about new technology and other clever tools and possessions. They also enjoy discussions of processes and systems, including politics. People people enjoy only conversations that involve humans doing interesting things. They get bored in a second when the conversation turns to things. Once you know whether you are dealing with a thing person or a people person, you can craft your conversation to his or her sweet spot.

People who appear outgoing are usually employing a learned social skill that you think is somehow natural. It probably isn’t,

The simple rule for “I” versus “me” is that the sentence has to make sense if you remove the other person mentioned in the sentence.

A theory is a scientific explanation of reality that is so well tested that it is as good as a fact. The correct term for an unproven and untested explanation is “hypothesis.”

A good starting point in learning is to go to your preferred online bookstore and search for the topic. Keep reading those books until they seem to be repeating the same tricks.

The most effective way to stop people from trying to persuade me is to say, “I’m not interested.”

Don’t offer a reason why you aren’t interested. No one can say why a thing holds interest for some and not for others. There’s no argument against a lack of interest.

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. Crazy people also take more risks and act more confidently than the facts would warrant.

Cults are a good example of insanity being viewed as leadership.

In any kind of negotiation, the worst thing you can do is act reasonable. Reasonable people generally cave in to irrational people because it seems like the path of least resistance.

The way fake insanity works in a negotiation is that you assign a greater value to some element of a deal than an objective observer would consider reasonable. For example, you might demand that a deal be closed before the holidays so you can announce it to your family as a holiday present. When you bring in an emotional dimension, people know they can’t talk you out of it. Emotions don’t bend to reason.

I like to form full sentences in my head before I start them.

When I know a topic is likely to come up in the near future, I practice entire conversations in my head until I can speak my thoughts fluently.

Improve your psychological bravery but say no to anything that has a strong chance of killing you.

The unemployment rate for engineers is nearly zero. People who have the right kind of education have almost no risk of unemployment.

When you see a successful person who lacks a college education, you’re usually looking at someone with an unusual lack of fear.

Successful people treat success as a learnable skill. They figure out what they need and they go and get it.

Choose funny books.

Experts are right about 98 percent of the time on the easy stuff but only right 50 percent of the time on anything that is unusually complicated, mysterious, or even new.

If your gut feeling (intuition) disagrees with the experts, take that seriously. You might be experiencing some pattern recognition that you can’t yet verbalize.

Find the people who most represent what you would like to become and spend as much time with them as you can.

Pursuing happiness without understanding the mechanisms behind it is like planting a garden without knowing the basics of fertilization, pest control, watering, and frost. It’s easy to pop a seed in the ground, but it takes a deeper understanding of the gardening arts to grow something wonderful. Happiness, like gardening, only seems simple.

The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things.

Happiness has more to do with where you’re heading than where you are. A person who is worth two billion dollars will feel sad if he suddenly loses one billion because he’s moving in the wrong direction,

Have a hobby that leaves you plenty of room to improve every year. Slow and steady improvement at anything makes you feel that you are on the right track.

Pessimism is often a failure of imagination. If you can’t even imagine an improved future, you won’t be happy no matter how well your life is going right now.

Daydreams need not be accurate in terms of predicting the future. Simply imagining a better future hacks your brain chemistry and provides you with the sensation of happiness today. Being happy raises your energy level and makes it easier to pursue the steps toward real-world happiness.

The primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet, and exercise.

At times when you’ve exercised earlier in the day, eaten well, hydrated, and had enough sleep, what percentage of those times have you found yourself in a good mood?

The Paradox of Choice: That’s why I find great comfort in routine. It’s always the same, at least for the first few hours of my day.

Eat something specific, and see how you feel later. Which foods make you energetic and which ones make you sleepy?

Struggling to do anything has a steep price because you don’t want to use up your willpower and energy on something as unimportant as staying away from the candy drawer.

Inaccurate worldviews are the only kind. You can often get good results from inaccurate worldviews.

The happier you are in one area of your life, the less effort you’ll put into searching for happiness elsewhere.

Tiredness creates the illusion of hunger.

Simplification is often the difference between doing something you know you should do and putting it off.

Never exercise so much in one day that you won’t feel like being active the next day.

The right amount of exercise today is whatever amount makes me look forward to being active tomorrow.

Summary:

Focus on your diet first and get that right so you have enough energy to want to exercise. Exercise will further improve your energy.

All you need for success is luck. You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from strategies with bad odds to strategies with good odds. For example, learning multiple skills.

Pick strategies that scare off the people who fear embarrassment.

Most important, understand that goals are for losers and systems are for winners. People who seem to have good luck are often the people who have a system that allows luck to find them.