Book Reviews

How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big by Scott Adams -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

29. How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big - Scott Adams

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Rating: 8/10

Date of reading: 5th – 12th of September, 2018

Description: From the creator of Dilbert comes a book like none before. The author literally calls himself a failure like 100 times in the book, the self-deprecating humor is masterful and it really hits the nail because it resonates with an innate human feeling about themselves — we are losers and success is for those people “out there.” Scott Adams shows you how the people out there are really people like you. And he does it better than anyone else.


My notes:




“But I am a professional simplifier.” ( :9)

“strip out the unnecessary noise from a situation until all that is left is the absurd-yet-true core.” ( :9)

“feat with as few as four short sentences. I’ve performed that trick nearly nine thousand times, sometimes successfully.” ( :9)

“‘I wish I could give you a surefire formula for success, but life doesn’t work that way. What I can do is describe a model that you can compare with your current way of doing things. The right answer for you might be some combination of what you’re already doing and what you read here. You’re the best judge of what works for you, as long as you acquire that wisdom through pattern recognition, trial, and observation.” ( :9)

“I’ve crafted pranks that spanned years, sometimes when no one was in on the joke but me.” ( :10)

“On top of that, I’m getting paid to write this book, and we all know that money distorts truth like a hippo in a thong. And let’s not forget I’m a stranger to most of you. It’s never a good idea to trust strangers.” ( :10)

“Book Tease 1. Goals are for losers. 2. Your mind isn’t magic. It’s a moist computer you can program. 3. The most important metric to track is your personal energy. 4. Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. 5. Happiness is health plus freedom. 6. Luck can be managed, sort of. 7. Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way). 8. Fitness is the lever that moves the world. 9. Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.” ( :11)

“Consider the people who routinely disagree with you. See how confident they look while being dead wrong? That’s exactly how you look to them.” ( :12)

“The Six Filters for Truth 1. Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.) 2. Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.) 3. Experts (They work for money, not truth.) 4. Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.) 5. Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.) 6. Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence, and personal bias look alike.)” ( :12)

“It’s not science, but it’s still an entirely useful pattern. Consistency is the best marker of truth that we have, imperfect though it may be.” ( :12)

“But my observation is that a startling percentage of the adult population literally has no smart friends to help them in their quest for success and happiness. I hereby deputize myself to be your smart(ish) friend in the form of this book.” ( :12)

“The best example of the power of simplicity is capitalism. The central genius of capitalism is that all of its complexities, all of the differences across companies, all of the challenges, decisions, successes, and failures can be boiled down into one number: profits. That simplification allows capitalism to work. The underlying complexity still exists in business, but creating a clear and simple measure of progress makes capitalism possible.” ( :13)

“You can debate the morality of viewing profits as the top priority in business, but you can’t argue that it doesn’t work. At most, you can argue that some companies take it 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.” ( :13)


The Time I Was Crazy


“In the spring of 2005 my doctor diagnosed me with a form of mental illness. He didn’t use those exact words, or anything like them, but he did refer me to the in-house psychologist at Kaiser, my health-care organization. I can take a hint.” ( :15)

“Insanity is always a reasonable diagnosis when you’re dealing with writers and artists. Sometimes the only real difference between crazy people and artists is that artists write down what they imagine seeing” ( :15)

“Like a stutterer, I learned to avoid problem syllables that would trip me up. If I wanted gum, I knew it would come out as “… um,” so instead I would try a work-around, such as “I want the stuff you chew.” That approach generally failed. People don’t expect riddles in their casual conversations, and no matter how clearly I laid out the clues, all I got in return was a puzzled expression and “Huh?”” ( :16)


Chapter Two
The Day of the Talk


“I’d given a hundred similar talks. On some level, every speaking event was the same: Sign the contract. Book a flight. Show up. Make small talk with the organizers. Hit the stage. Make people laugh. Sign some autographs. Pose for pictures. Rush to a waiting car service. Ride to the airport. Fly home.” ( :18)

“In an instant, and right on schedule, my heartbeat dropped to a normal state, just as it had a hundred times before in front of a hundred other crowds. My training was kicking in, and with it came my confidence. In my mind I owned the audience, and they would have it no other way. They had come to surrender, in a sense. All I had to do was show them I knew it. And to do that, I needed to be able to speak.” ( :19)

“I waited for the applause to stop. And when it did, I waited a little longer, as I had learned. When you stand in front of an audience, your sensation of time is distorted. That’s why inexperienced presenters speak too rapidly.” ( :19)


Chapter Three
Passion Is Bullshit


“Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection, and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. Those are all good things, right? Here’s the counterargument: When I was a commercial loan officer for a large bank in San Francisco, my boss taught us that you should never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. For example, you don’t want to give money to a sports enthusiast who is starting a sports store to pursue his passion for all things sporty. That guy is a bad bet, passion and all. He’s in business for the wrong reason.” ( :21)

“You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.” ( :21)

“My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate.” ( :21)

“but they also want to retain some humility. You can’t be humble and say, “I succeeded because I am far smarter than the average person.”” ( :21)

“On the other hand, Dilbert started out as just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try. When it started to look as if it might be a success, my passion for cartooning increased because I realized it could be my golden ticket. 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.” ( :22)

“I hate selling, but I know that’s because I’m bad at it. If I were a sensational salesperson or had potential to be one, I’d probably feel passionate about sales. And people who observed my success would assume my passion was causing my success as opposed to being a mere indicator of talent.” ( :22)

“But after a few drinks I think he’d say his success was a combination of desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk.” ( :22)


Chapter Four
Some of My Many Failures in Summary Form


“admit that I’ve failed at more challenges than anyone I know. There’s a nonzero chance that reading this book will set you on the path of your own magnificent screwups and cavernous disappointments. You’re welcome! And if I forgot to mention it earlier, that’s exactly where you want to be: steeped to your eyebrows in failure. It’s a good place to be because failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.” ( :24)

“Becoming stronger is obviously a good thing, but it’s only barely optimistic. I do want my failures to make me stronger, of course, but I also want to become smarter, more talented, better networked, healthier, and more energized. If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertilizer again.* Failure is a resource that can be managed.” ( :24)

“Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas. From that point on, I concentrated on ideas I could execute. I was already failing toward success, but I didn’t yet know it.” ( :25)

“Note: There is a successful and well-known computer game designer named Scott Adams. I’m not him.” ( :25)

“The technology of the time was too primitive to build the game I imagined. Or maybe my skills were inadequate. It was probably a combination.” ( :26)

“During the dot-com frenzy I was approached by the founders of a start-up that planned to allow anyone with a computer to post videos on the Internet for the collective viewing pleasure of all. They asked me to use my Dilbert spotlight to help get the word out. The start-up didn’t have much funding, so they offered me a generous chunk of stock instead. I accepted. I talked about the new service in my Dilbert newsletter, posted my own funny videos, and did some interviews on the topic. Several years later, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion and the shareholders made a fortune. Unfortunately, the video service in my story was not YouTube. It was a service that came” ( :27)

“before. The company I worked with was premature because Internet speeds were not quite fast enough for online video sharing to catch on. The company struggled for a few years and then shut down. YouTube got the timing right. This was about the time I started to understand that timing is often the biggest component of success. And since timing is often hard to get right unless you are psychic, it makes sense to try different things until you get the timing right by luck.” ( :28)

“My bank, Wells Fargo, pitched me on its investment services, and I decided to trust it with half of my investible funds. Trust is probably the wrong term because I only let Wells Fargo have” ( :28)

“half; I half trusted it. I did my own investing with the other half of my money. The experts at Wells Fargo helpfully invested my money in Enron, WorldCom, and some other names that have become synonymous with losing money. Clearly my investment professionals did not have access to better information than I had. I withdrew my money from their management and have done my own thing since then, mostly in broad-market, unmanaged funds. (That has worked out better.)” ( :29)

“The mineral fortification was hard to disguise, and because of the veggie and legume content, three bites of the Dilberito made you fart so hard your intestines formed a tail. Several years and several million dollars later, I sold off the intellectual property and exited.” ( :30)

“My first attempt at professional cartooning involved sending some single-panel comics to the two magazines that paid the most: Playboy and the New Yorker. The comics were dreadful. Both magazines wisely rejected them.” ( :31)


Chapter Five
My Absolute Favorite Spectacular Failure


“As I struggled to stay upright and keep moving, I made myself a promise: If I lived, I would trade my piece-of-shit car for a one-way plane ticket to California and never see another f@$#!#& snowflake for the rest of my life.” ( :34)

“A few months later, I kept my promise to myself. I traded my car to my sister for a one-way plane ticket to the vibrant economy and easy climate of northern California. It was the smartest decision I ever made. The experience of nearly dying in the frozen tundra of upstate New York inspired me to move to California. Thank you, failure. I no longer fear death when I go outdoors.” ( :34)


Chapter Six
Goals Versus Systems


“I was seated next to a businessman who was probably in his early sixties. I suppose I looked like an odd duck with my serious demeanor, bad haircut, and cheap suit, clearly out of my element. He asked what my story was and I filled him in. I asked what he did for a living and he told me he was CEO of a company that made screws. Then he offered me some career advice. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process.” ( :36)

“Throughout my career I’ve had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.” ( :37)

“If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.” ( :37)

“For our purposes, let’s say 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, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.” ( :38)

“Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction.” ( :38)

“His biggest problem in life is that he keeps trading his boat for a larger one, and that’s a lot of work. Observers call him lucky. What I see is a man who accurately identified his skill set and chose a system that vastly increased his odds of getting “lucky.” In fact, his system is so solid that it could withstand quite a bit of bad luck without buckling. How much passion does this fellow have for his chosen field? Answer: zero. What he has is a spectacular system, and that beats passion every time.” ( :39)


Chapter Seven
My System


“I learned by observation that people who pursued extraordinarily unlikely goals were overly optimistic at best, delusional at worst, and just plain stupid most of the time.” ( :41)

“My first choice, Cornell, had two factors working against it. The first was a tragic men-to-women ratio that guaranteed I would graduate a virgin. The other was that I applied too late and missed its deadline. Cornell informed me that I was on its wait list. My only chance of getting into that school was if some sort of fast-moving plague killed all of the people who knew there was a deadline for applying.” ( :43)

“Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Hartwick had several things going for it. It was a one-hour drive from home, so travel would be affordable. It had a well-respected nursing major, so there were more women than men. And it accepted me. It was my only option.” ( :43)

“(Full disclosure: Attending a college with a favorable male-female ratio turned out to be genius.)” ( :43)

“I had been in college for only one semester and I was on the verge of complete failure.” ( :43)

“This was one of those times when the difference between wishing and deciding mattered. I didn’t wish to stay in school; I decided. For the next two weeks I stayed in a bed in the college infirmary, struggling to stay awake long enough to read my textbooks and keep up to where I assumed the class would be. Upon release, I discovered I was actually a month ahead in some of my classes. My grades climbed back where they needed to be and I marched on.” ( :43)

“The idea was to create something that had value and—this next part is the key—I wanted the product to be something that was easy to reproduce in unlimited quantities.” ( :44)

“I figured my competitive edge was creativity. I would try one thing after another until something creative struck a chord with the public. Then I would reproduce it like crazy. In the near term it would mean one failure after another. In the long term I was creating a situation that would allow luck to find me.” ( :44)

“Had I been goal oriented instead of system oriented, I imagine I would have given up after the first several failures. It would have felt like banging my head against a brick wall. But being systems oriented, I felt myself growing” ( :44)

“more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project I happened to be working on. And every day during those years I woke up with the same thought, literally, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and slapped the alarm clock off. Today’s the day.” ( :45)


Chapter Eight
My Corporate Career Fizzled


“The senior vice president told me that my suggestions for improving the bank were underwhelming, but he liked my sense of humor, and because of that he had a hunch about my potential. A month later I started the management training program. Somehow I had failed my way to a much better job.” ( :47)

“In my eight years at the bank, I was incompetent at one job after another.” ( :47)

“It seemed as if my only valuable skill were interviewing for the next job. I got hired for almost every job I pursued in the bank, and each was a promotion and a raise. It was starting to seem as if I might be able to interview my way to some sort of senior executive position in which no one would notice I was totally skill free. That was my hope.” ( :48)

“My banking career ended when my boss called me into her office and informed me that the order had come down to stop promoting white males.” ( :48)

“few weeks after I left my job at Crocker, an acquiring bank fired everyone in the department I’d left behind. My failure as a banker allowed me to escape to a new job before the firing. This was one of many examples in which the universe makes sure there isn’t much of a link between job performance in the corporate world and outcomes.” ( :48)

“On day two, my boss’s boss called and asked what the problem was. I explained the situation and he listened. He was an engineer by training, and he couldn’t find a flaw in my reasoning. I was applying the company policy exactly as it was intended. He wasn’t a smoker, so I think he saw the point. I thanked him for listening and said I would check back periodically to see if the workplace was safe for me to return. I was professional and upbeat about it, in part because I thought it was funnier that way. I expected to get fired. And I expected to call the local newspaper afterward and see if it wanted an interesting story. This was the first time I realized how attracted I am to controversy.” ( :49)

“. My boss’s boss’s boss called me into his office and explained that the order had come down to stop promoting white males. Pacific Bell had a diversity problem, and it might take years to fix it, if it was ever fixed. My bid for upper management at Pacific Bell was officially a failure.” ( :49)


Chapter Nine
Deciding Versus Wanting


“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard goes something like this: 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.” ( :51)

“When you decide to be successful in a big way, it means you acknowledge the price and you’re willing to pay it. That price might be sacrificing your personal life to get good grades in school, pursuing a college major that is deadly boring but lucrative, putting off having kids, missing time with your family, or taking business risks that put you in jeopardy for embarrassment, divorce, or bankruptcy.” ( :51)


Chapter Ten
The Selfishness Illusion


“For starters, when it comes to the topic of generosity, there are three kinds of people in the world: 1. Selfish 2. Stupid 3. Burden on others” ( :53)

“Successful people generally don’t burden the world. Corporate raiders, overpaid CEOs, and tyrannical dictators are the exceptions.” ( :53)

“My best estimate is that I will personally consume about 10 percent of the total wealth I create over my career. The rest goes to taxes, future generations, start-up investments, charity, and stimulating the economy.” ( :53)

“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.” ( :53)

“power of permission. I’m giving you permission to take care of yourself first, so you can do a better job of being generous in the long run. What?” ( :54)

“I’m sure you already want to be fit and successful and happy. You already want to skip some of your chores at home or at work to take care of your own needs. I’m simply your cartoonist friend telling you that generous people take care of their own needs first. In fact, doing so is a moral necessity. The world needs you at your best.” ( :54)

“One of the more interesting surprises for me when I started making more money than I would ever spend is that it automatically changed my priorities. I could afford any car I wanted, but suddenly I didn’t care so much about my possessions beyond the utility they provided.” ( :54)

“Apparently humans are wired to take care of their own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world, roughly in that order.” ( :54)


Chapter Eleven
The Energy Metric


“Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps.” ( :57)

“The honest answer to all of those concerns is that they are entirely valid. Capitalism is rotten at every level, and yet it adds up to something extraordinarily useful for society over time. The paradox of capitalism is that adding a bunch of bad-sounding ideas together creates something incredible that is far more good than bad. Capitalism inspires people to work hard, to take reasonable risks, and to” ( :58)

“create value for customers.” ( :59)

“As I write this paragraph, my wife and our good friends are wondering why I’m selfishly lagging behind and not meeting them for an afternoon of sitting in the sun. I’ll get there soon. And when I do, I’ll feel energized and satisfied and be far more fun to be around. No one will think worse of me in the long run for being thirty minutes behind for a full day of fun that they have already started. But everyone will appreciate that I’m in a better mood when I show up. That’s the trade-off. Like capitalism, some forms of selfishness are enlightened.” ( :59)

“The cost of optimizing is that it’s exhausting and stress inducing, at least for people like me. Sometimes I think I’m literally going to have a heart attack from all of the optimizing. It also requires full concentration. I prefer simple, foolproof plans that allow my heart to beat normally and my mind to wander toward blissful thoughts of puppies and rose petals.” ( :61)

“I decided to confess to my editor my lack of knowledge in the comic-coloring arts. She said, “The printer does that.” All I needed to do was indicate which colors I wanted where. End of story. (Today I use Photoshop and point the paint-bucket icon at the area I want to color. It’s probably the easiest work-related thing I do all week.)” ( :64)

“My business mistakes, of which there have been plenty, were rarely caused by not being able to find the information that I knew I needed. Most of my problems were caused by my own bad decisions, lack of skill, and bad luck. I can’t think of a single instance in which I was stopped because there was information I needed and I couldn’t find it. I think most entrepreneurs would tell you the same thing. And more to the point of this chapter, when you know how to do something, you feel more energized to take it on.” ( :64)

“reasons that don’t appear productive or necessary. Asshole behaviors: 1. Changing the subject to him/herself 2. Dominating conversation 3. Bragging 4. Cheating, lying 5. Disagreeing with any suggestion, no matter how trivial 6. Using honesty as a justification for cruelty 7. Withholding simple favors out of some warped sense of social justice 8. Abandoning the rules of civil behavior, such as saying hello or making eye contact” ( :65)

“It’s useful to think of your priorities in terms of concentric circles, like an archery target. In the center is your highest priority: you. If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other priorities. So taking care of your own health is job one. The next ring—and your second-biggest priority—is economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house. You might wince at the fact that I put economics ahead of your family, your friends, and the rest of the world, but there’s a reason. If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.” ( :65)

“When I speak of priorities I don’t mean that in terms of what you love the most. You can love your family more than you love your job and still spend all day working so your family has food and opportunities. Priorities are the things you need to get right so the things you love can thrive.” ( :66)


Chapter Twelve
Managing Your Attitude


“For starters, pay attention to the attitudes of people who have recently exercised. You’ll discover they are almost always happy and upbeat. Now also look at the attitudes of people who have recently eaten versus the people who are hungry. You’ll see a big difference. Tired people are grumpy, rested people are less so.” ( :68)

“This is the same reasoning for why you should avoid exposure to too much news of the depressing type and why it’s a good idea to avoid music, books, and movies that are downers.” ( :68)

“The easiest way to manage your attitude is to consume as much feel-good entertainment as you can.” ( :68)

“You might be thinking this is all well and good for famous authors and cartoonists, but ordinary people don’t have many chances to change the world. I disagree. Ideas change the world routinely, and most of those ideas originate from ordinary people.” ( :69)

“The smiling-makes-you-happy phenomenon is part of the larger and highly useful phenomenon of faking it until you make it. You’ll see this two-way causation in a wide variety of human activities. Later I’ll tell you that putting on exercise clothes will make you feel like working out. I’ve also discovered that acting confident makes you feel more confident. Feeling energetic makes you want to play a sport, but playing a sport will also make you feel energetic. Loving someone makes you want to have sex, but having sex also releases the bonding chemicals that make you feel love. High testosterone can help you win a competition, but winning a competition can also sometimes raise your testosterone.” ( :70)

“try hanging around friends who are naturally funny. Equally important, avoid friends who are full-time downers. You want friends with whom you can share both the good and the bad, but you aren’t a therapist. Walk away from the soul suckers. You have a right to pursue happiness and an equal right to run as fast as you can from the people who would deny it.” ( :70)

“The same was true for Scrabble, Ping-Pong, and tennis. I’m better than 99 percent of the world* in each of those games because I put in more practice time than 99 percent of the world. There’s no magic to it.” ( :71)

“Physicists tell us that reality seems to depend on the observer. If you and I were to move through an empty and infinitely large universe at the same speed and in the same direction, we would feel as if we weren’t moving at all. And arguably, that would be the case, since movement only makes sense in relation to other objects.” ( :72)

“We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and having a wildly inaccurate first impression, which in turn drives the way we act. Later, once you know more about the person, you start behaving differently. The external reality doesn’t change, but your point of view does. In many cases, it’s your point of view that influences your behavior, not the universe. And you can control your point of view even when you can’t change the underlying reality.” ( :72)


Chapter Thirteen
It’s Already Working


“You already passed the first filter for success. By reading this book you’ve established yourself as a seeker of knowledge. Seekers obviously find more stuff than the people who sit and wait. Your decision to read this book is confirmation that you are a person of action who has a desire to be more effective. I’m reinforcing that thought to help lock it in.” ( :75)

“So congratulations on being a person who studies the mechanics of success. It’s a bigger deal than you might realize.” ( :75)


Chapter Fourteen
My Pinkie Goes Nuts


“Pause for a moment to reflect on that. There were over six billion people in the world, and one of the most published experts in the field worked within walking distance of my home. Never assume you understand the odds of things.” ( :77)

“Realistically, 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.” ( :78)

“Over the next several weeks I noticed I could hold my pen to paper for a full second before feeling the onset of a pinkie spasm. Eventually it was two seconds, then five. One day, after I trained myself to hold pen to paper for several seconds without a spasm, my brain suddenly and unexpectedly rewired itself and removed the dystonia altogether. Apparently I broke the spasm cycle and reinforced the nonspasm association.” ( :78)

“And so I was the first person in the world to cure a focal dystonia, at least as far as I know. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about that, since I can’t know what everyone else is doing or what worked for them. Still, it was an unlikely result.” ( :78)


Chapter Fifteen
My Speaking Career


“The Canadian woman suggested that I give her a price for my services that would make it worthwhile for me. If my price was too high, at least she could take it back to her organization and say she’d tried. She made it sound as if I would be doing her a favor to come up with a price for something I didn’t want to do.” ( :81)

“I put the question to him: “What should I say is my price for speaking?” I told him that I would be perfectly happy to price myself out of the job. He said, “Ask for five thousand dollars. If they say no, you avoid a trip to Canada.” I laughed at his suggestion, knowing that I wasn’t worth that kind of money. But I had my plan. I practiced saying “five thousand dollars” until I thought I could say it without laughing. I called back my Canadian contact. That conversation went like this: Canadian: “Did you come up with a price?” Me: “Yes … five thousand dollars.” Canadian: “Okay, and we’ll also pay for your first-class travel and hotel.” I flew to Canada and gave a speech.” ( :81)

“I raised my price to $10,000, and the requests kept coming. I tried $15,000, and the requests accelerated. By the time I got to $25,000, the speakers’ bureaus had started to see me as a source of bigger commissions and advised me to raise my price to $35,000, then $45,000. The largest offer I ever turned down, because of a scheduling conflict, was $100,000 to speak for an hour on any topic I wanted.” ( :82)


Chapter Sixteen
My Voice Problem Gets a Name


“In that case I’d lost control of my pinkie. Now I was losing control of my voice. Could the two problems be related? I entered the search string “voice dystonia” because my hand problem was called a focal dystonia. Bingo. The search popped up a video of a patient who had something called spasmodic dysphonia, a condition in which the vocal cords clench involuntarily when making certain sounds. I played the video and recognized my exact voice pattern—broken words and clipped syllables—coming out of the patient in the video. Now I had its name: spasmodic dysphonia, which I discovered is often associated with other forms of dystonia. As I learned with further research, it’s common for someone who has one type of dystonia to get another. (Luckily it doesn’t tend to progress beyond that.)” ( :84)

“I printed out a description of spasmodic dysphonia and took it to my doctor. He referred me back to my ear-nose-throat doctor, who in turn referred me to a doctor I hadn’t yet seen in the Kaiser healthcare system, who turned out to be an expert in that exact condition. Within ten seconds of my opening my mouth in her office, the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. I had a classic case. “What’s the cure?” I whispered. “There is none,” she replied. But that isn’t what I heard. The optimist in me translated the gloomy news as “Scott, you will be the first person in the world to be cured of spasmodic dysphonia.” And I decided that after I cured myself, somehow, some way, I would spread the word to others. I wouldn’t be satisfied simply” ( :84)

“escaping from my prison of silence; I was planning to escape, free the other inmates, shoot the warden, and burn down the prison. Sometimes I get that way. It’s a surprisingly useful frame of mind.” ( :85)


Chapter Seventeen
The Voice Solution That Didn’t Work


“One helpful rule of thumb for knowing where you might have a little extra talent is to consider what you were obsessively doing before you were ten years old.” ( :89)


Chapter Eighteen
Recognizing Your Talents and Knowing When to Quit


“But when it came to comics, I eagerly accepted the risk of expulsion and great bodily harm that comes with insulting larger kids.” ( :90)

“That approach might conflict with the advice you’ve heard all your life—that sticking with something, no matter the obstacles, is important to success. Indeed, most successful people had to chew through a wall at some point. Overcoming obstacles is normally an unavoidable part of the process. But you also need to know when to quit. Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.” ( :90)

“When Fox launched The Simpsons in 1989, it was a national phenomenon on day one. Everywhere I went, the topic of The Simpsons came up: “Did you see it?” Interestingly, as much as The Simpsons is rebroadcast in syndication, you won’t often see that first season repeated. The reason, I assume based on clips I’ve seen, is that by today’s standards it would be judged to be embarrassingly bad. The original art looked amateurish and the writing was violent, sophomoric slapstick. Compared with today’s episodes, the first season of The Simpsons was an awful product. Again, the quality didn’t predict success. The better predictor is that The Simpsons was an immediate hit despite its surface quality. It had the x factor. In time it grew to be one of the most important, most creative, and best shows of all time.” ( :91)

“But bad luck doesn’t have the option of being that consistent forever. I’ll get it done unless I die first.” ( :92)

“Consider the iPhone. The first version was a mess, yet it was greeted with an almost feverish enthusiasm. That enthusiasm, and the enormous sales that followed, funded improvements until the product became superb. One of the best ways to detect the x factor is to watch what customers do about your idea or product, not what they say.” ( :92)

“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.” ( :92)


Chapter Nineteen
Is Practice Your Thing?


“He was fully coachable at the age of three. Some adults—maybe most—never have that capability.” ( :94)

“There’s no denying the importance of practice. The hard part is figuring out what to practice” ( :94)

“When I was a kid I spent countless bored hours in my bedroom on winter nights trying to spin a basketball on one finger. Eventually I mastered that skill, only to learn later that it has no economic value.” ( :94)

“These and other skills have not served me well. It matters what you practice.” ( :94)

“My observation is that some people are born with a natural impulse to practice things and some people find mindless repetition without immediate reward to be a form of torture.” ( :94)

“All of those professions require disciplined study, but every class will be different, and later on all of your projects will be different. Your skills will increase with experience, which is the more fun cousin of practice. Practice involves putting your consciousness in suspended animation. Practicing is not living. But when you build your skills through an ever-changing sequence of experiences, you’re alive.” ( :95)


Chapter Twenty
Managing Your Odds for Success


“The primary purpose of schools is to prepare kids for success in adulthood. That’s why it seems odd to me that schools don’t have required courses on the systems and practices of successful people.” ( :97)

“The children of successful people probably learn by observation and parental coaching. But most people are not born to highly successful parents. The average kid spends almost no time around highly successful people, and certainly not during the workday, when those successful people are applying their methods.” ( :97)

“The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success” ( :97)

“The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good—not extraordinary—at more than one skill.” ( :97)

“In California, for example, having one common occupational skill plus fluency in Spanish puts you at the head of the line for many types of jobs. If you’re also a skilled public speaker (good but not great) and you know your way around a PowerPoint presentation, you have a good chance of running your organization. To put the success formula into its simplest form: Good + Good > Excellent” ( :98)

“Successwise, you’re better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one. I’m ignoring the outlier possibility that you might be one of the best performers in the world at some skill or another. That can obviously be valuable too. But realistically, you wouldn’t be reading this book if you could throw a baseball a hundred miles per hour or compose hit songs in your head.” ( :98)

“When writing a résumé, a handy trick you’ll learn from experts is to ask yourself if there are any words in your first draft that you would be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each. Here’s the simple formula: Each Unnecessary Word = $100” ( :98)

“As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy.” ( :98)

“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.” ( :98)

“perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well. At social gatherings I’m usually not the funniest person in the room. My writing skills are good, not great. But what I have that most artists and cartoonists do not have is years of corporate business experience plus an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.” ( :99)

“My combined mediocre skills are worth far more than the sum of the parts.” ( :99)

“This would be a good time to tell you what kind of student I was in Berkeley’s MBA program. In my first semester I often had the lowest grades in the class. I worked hard and rose to scholastic mediocrity through brute force. In the end, all that mattered is that I learned skills that complemented my other meager talents.” ( :99)

“There were concerns that piracy would go through the roof (it did) and that newspapers would see the Internet as competition and cancel (none did). In the days when more exposure was a good thing, the piracy helped far more than it hurt.” ( :99)

“Recapping my skill set: I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good but not great writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet. And I have a good but not great sense of humor. I’m like one big mediocre soup. None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force.” ( :99)

“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. Imagine explaining to an extraterrestrial visitor the concept of a horse. It would take some time. If the next thing you tried to explain were the concept of a zebra, the conversation would be shorter. You would simply point out that a zebra is a lot like a horse but with black and white strips. Everything you learn becomes a shortcut for understanding something else.” ( :100)

“The Knowledge Formula: The More You Know, the More You Can Know” ( :100)

“My one caution about reading the news every day is that it can be a huge downer if you pick the wrong topics. Personally, I try to avoid stories involving tragic events and concentrate on the more hopeful topics in science, technology, and business. I don’t ignore bad news, but I don’t dwell on it.” ( :100)


Chapter Twenty-one
The Math of Success


“You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from a game with low odds of success to a game with better odds. That seems like an obvious strategy and you probably think you already do it. The hard part is figuring out the odds of any given game, and that’s harder than it looks.” ( :102)

“”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.” ( :102)

“Some of the most powerful patterns in life are subtle. This tennis pattern was extraordinarily so. The quick explanation is that while I was playing tennis, my opponent was doing math. He was a card counter with a tennis racket. Over the course of several decades of tennis he had learned the odds associated with just about everything that can happen on a tennis court.” ( :103)

“example, when your opponent hits a forehand-to-forehand shot that takes you wide, leaving half of his court unguarded, most amateurs would try for a blistering forehand winner up the line into the open court. That shot was almost always my choice, and I missed it about 80 percent of the time. It turns out that hitting down the line when you’re moving at a right angle to your target is exceptionally challenging for a weekend player. The down-the-line shot works best when you have time to set up and step toward it. Hitting down the line while on the run only feels like it would be easy. The illusion is surprisingly strong. Every time I missed a down-the-line shot I was surprised, no matter how many times in a row I missed the same way. I assumed I would be able to lock in that shot if I just tried it a few more times. I was wrong about that for years.” ( :103)

“In time I learned to avoid the low-percentage tennis shots more often and I won our matches about half the time, exactly as our shot-making skills would predict. So how does any of this help you?” ( :103)

“The idea I’m promoting here is that it helps to see the world as math and not magic.” ( :103)

“If you find yourself in a state of continual failure in your personal or business life, you might be blaming it on fate or karma or animal spirits or some other form of magic when the answer is simple math. There’s usually a pattern, but it might be subtle. Don’t stop looking just because you don’t see the pattern in the first seven years.” ( :103)

“I made a list of the skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge. I wouldn’t expect you to become a master of any, but mastery isn’t necessary. Luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas. I’ll make a case for each one, but here’s the preview list. Public speaking” ( :103)

“Psychology Business writing Accounting Design (the basics) Conversation Overcoming shyness Second language Golf Proper grammar Persuasion Technology (hobby level) Proper voice technique” ( :104)

“essence was this: “Instead of describing the Dale Carnegie course myself, I’ve asked two of your fellow employees who took the course to tell you what they think.” He introduced the first guy and walked off. Tony Snow was done selling.” ( :104)

“When he was done, Tony Snow thanked him and introduced the second speaker. The second guy was completely different in style from the first speaker but every bit as good. He was enjoying himself. He projected. He was clear and concise. He owned us. When he was done, Tony Snow thanked the audience and told us how we could get more information about the course. Tony Snow: magnificent bastard. I signed up that day.” ( :104)

“The instructor acknowledged that sometimes the class would need to sit quietly for long periods waiting for the next volunteer. And wait we did.” ( :105)

“A few words came out, just barely, and she returned to her seat defeated, humiliated, broken. Then an interesting thing happened. I rank it as one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed. The instructor went to the front and looked at the broken student. The room was dead silent. I’ll always remember his words. He said, “Wow. That was brave.”” ( :105)

“The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism.” ( :106)

“Adults are starved for a kind word.” ( :106)

“Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral. If you see something that impresses you, a decent respect to humanity insists you voice your praise.” ( :106)

“Another thing I learned from my Dale Carnegie experience is that we don’t always have an accurate view of our own potential. I think most people who are frightened of public speaking can’t imagine they might feel different as a result of training. Don’t assume you know how much potential you have. Sometimes the only way to know what you can do is to test yourself.” ( :106)

“How much more effective would you be if you had a greater understanding of psychology? Answer: a lot.” ( :107)

“Sarah Gillespie, editor at United Media, called and offered a contract, I apologized for my poor drawing skills and suggested that perhaps she could pair me with someone who could do the artwork. Sarah, who evidently understood a lot about psychology, told me my drawing skill was fine; no improvement necessary. That triggered a highly unexpected change in my actual level of talent: It went up.” ( :107)

“On day one, the Plop comic was a lot better than the first Dilbert comics, but not nearly as good as Dilbert had become by that time. What I didn’t count on—my blind spot—was that my new comic would be compared with Dilbert, not with other new comics. Compared with Dilbert, it was flat and lacked an edge. Compared with all of the new comics that launched that same year from unknown cartoonists, it was fairly competitive. Most of my feedback by e-mail was of the “Keep your day job” variety, along with “It’s no Dilbert.” I wouldn’t have guessed that being a successful cartoonist would be a barrier to launching a new comic, but in my case it was. I could have saved a lot of time if I’d understood that in advance.” ( :107)

“Quality is not an independent force in the universe; it depends on what you choose as your frame of reference.” ( :108)

“The self-assessed underdressed customer would turn and leave. I saw that scenario repeat itself over and over. None of the women who rejected themselves from the restaurant looked underdressed to me. The restaurant wasn’t that upscale. It was still a neighborhood restaurant in a suburban strip mall. But compared with other restaurants in the area it was a step up in design. It made people feel uncomfortable. To make matters worse, our food quality wasn’t up to the level people expected for a place with that type of decor. The restaurant’s appearance caused us to be compared with the very best of fine-dining restaurants. Our business model assumed people would prefer eating upscale comfort food in an unusually attractive setting. It was a bad idea. Customers were confused. Was the restaurant supposed to be casual or upscale?” ( :108)

“This book itself presents an especially challenging comparison problem. If I add too much humor to this book, reviewers and readers will compare it with other humor books and it will come up short because many of the chapters don’t lend themselves to jokes. If I leave out all humor, the book will be compared with self-help books, which would be misleading in its own way, but I’d probably come out better in that sort of comparison. In other words, to increase your perceived enjoyment of the book, I might leave out some humor that you would otherwise enjoy.” ( :108)

“I’ve spent a lot of time describing just one psychological phenomenon: the tendency to make irrational comparisons. But how many psychological tips and tricks does a person really need to understand in order to be successful in life? My best guess is that there are a few hundred rules in psychology that you should have a passing familiarity with. I’ve been absorbing information in this field for decades, and I don’t feel that I am getting anywhere near the end of it. And just about everything I learn about human psychology ends up being helpful.” ( :109)

“On a scale of one to ten, the importance of understanding psychology is a solid ten.” ( :109)

“But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power. No matter what you’re doing or how well you’re doing it, you can benefit from a deeper understanding of how the mind interprets its world using only the clues that somehow find a way into your brain through the holes in your skull.” ( :114)

“I no longer see reason as the driver of behavior. I see simple cause and effect, similar to the way machines operate.” ( :114)

“It is tremendously useful to know when people are using reason and when they are rationalizing the irrational. You’re wasting your time if you try to make someone see reason when reason is not influencing the decision.” ( :115)

“When politicians tell lies, they know the press will call them out. They also know it doesn’t matter. Politicians understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions.” ( :115)

“When politicians tell lies, they know the press will call them out. They also know it doesn’t matter. Politicians understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions. A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments.” ( :115)

“A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments. That’s even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie.” ( :115)

“Your reasoning can prevent you from voting for a total imbecile, but it won’t stop you from supporting a half-wit with a great haircut.” ( :115)

“Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.” ( :115)

“Apple owes much of its success to Steve Jobs’s understanding that the way a product makes users feel trumps most other considerations, including price. If Steve Jobs had seen people as rational beings, he might have followed a path similar to Dell, selling highly capable machines at the lowest possible price. Dell succeeded too, of course, but if buyers were rational, there would have been only one computer manufacturer left after about a year; consumers would always buy the best computer for the money and drive out the bad players overnight. Luckily for Dell and several other Windows computer manufacturers, there are enough irrational people with poor information to keep” ( :115)

“several companies afloat so long as their products are confusingly similar. Jobs’s worldview led him to a business model with high margins, whereas Windows computers have become commodities.” ( :116)

“I was very wrong about how useful the class would be. If I recall, the class was only two afternoons long. And it was life altering.” ( :116)

“Consider the previous sentence. I intentionally embedded some noise. Did you catch it? The sentence that starts with “You think you already do that” includes the unnecessary word “already.”” ( :116)

“Remove it and you get exactly the same meaning: “You think you do that.” The “already” part is assumed and unnecessary. That sort of realization is the foundation of business writing.” ( :117)

“The one thing that all of the concepts have in common is that they can’t work because there aren’t enough tables in the place to cover their expenses. (I have a good idea what their expenses are because I once owned two restaurants in the area.) My guess is that each new operator has plenty of culinary skill and no accounting skill. No one with accounting skill would get involved with a business model that can’t work on paper.” ( :117)

“I was amazed to learn, well into my adult years, that design is actually rules based. One need not have an “eye” for design; knowing the rules is good enough for civilians.” ( :118)

“For example, landscape designers will tell you that it’s better to put three of the same kind of bush in your yard, not two and not four. Odd numbers just look better in that context. You don’t need an eye for design to count to three, and you get the same result as the expert, at least in that limited example.” ( :118)

“You imagine a giant letter L on the page and fill in the dense stuff along its shape, leaving less clutter in one of the four open quadrants” ( :118)

“You might start a conversation to … Exchange information Plan Complain Entertain Feel connected Befriend Seduce” ( :118)

“Persuade Be polite Avoid awkward silence Brag” ( :119)

“All you do is introduce yourself and ask questions until you find a point of mutual interest. I’ll paraphrase the Dale Carnegie question stack as best I remember it. It goes something like this: 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?” ( :119)

“Your job as a conversationalist is to keep asking questions and keep looking for something you have in common with the stranger, or something that interests you enough to wade into the topic. In my entire life I have never met a stranger who didn’t have some fascinating life experiences that spilled out if I asked the right questions. Everyone is interesting if you make the situation feel safe. Here’s a summary of good conversation technique.” ( :119)

“1. Ask questions. 2. Don’t complain (much). 3. Don’t talk about boring experiences (TV show, meal, dream, etc.). 4. Don’t dominate the conversation. Let others talk. 5. Don’t get stuck on a topic. Keep moving. 6. Planning is useful but it isn’t conversation. 7. Keep the sad stories short, especially medical stories.” ( :120)

“It’s simple, actually. It starts by smiling and keeping your body language open. After that, just ask questions and listen as if you cared, all the while looking for common interests. Everyone likes to talk about his or her own life, and everyone appreciates a sympathetic listener. Eventually, if you discover some common interests, you’ll feel a connection without any effort” ( :120)

“If you’re unattractive—and this is my area of expertise—your conversation skills will be especially important” ( :120)

“I think everyone should learn how to tell a funny story. I don’t think people realize that storytelling is a learnable skill and not a genetic gift. Once you know the parts that compose any good story, you have all you need to sculpt your own out of your everyday experiences.” ( :120)

“turns out that a shy person can act like someone else more easily than he can act like himself. That makes some sense because shyness is caused by an internal feeling that you are not worthy to be in the conversation. Acting like someone else gets you out of that way of thinking.” ( :123)

“You should also try to 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.” ( :123)

“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. It makes a big difference in how people react to you, and that in turn will make you more confident and less shy” ( :123)

“Women in the business world should learn golf for the same reasons as men, plus the extra reason that it opens up some tremendous dating opportunities if you’re in the market. I don’t know how many desirable men would prefer an average woman who golfs over a supermodel who doesn’t, but I’ll bet” ( :124)

“it’s a substantial number” ( :125)

“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. For example, if you say, “Bob and I went to a movie,” it would still make sense if you removed “Bob and” and said, “I went to a movie.”” ( :126)

“If the sentence is “Please give the documents to Bob and me,” you can remove “Bob and” and it still makes sense as “Please give the documents to me.” You’ll often hear smart people get this rule wrong, so don’t be fooled by how many times you hear it incorrectly.” ( :126)

“Nonscientists often use the word “theory” when they should say “hypothesis.” Without getting too technical, 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.”” ( :126)

“I’ve learned so much on the topic of persuasion that I intentionally dial it back when I feel like I’m in a stick fight with someone who has no stick.” ( :127)

“Pe rs uas ive Words and Phrases Because Would you mind … ? I’m not interested. I don’t do that. I have a rule … I just wanted to clarify … Is there anything you can do for me? Thank you This is just between you and me.” ( :127)

“Because” ( :127)

“If the science is accurate, an effective way to ask for money might look something like this: “May I borrow a hundred dollars, because I don’t get paid until next week?” That’s not much of a justification for borrowing money; no real reason is given.” ( :127)

“Would You Mind … ?” ( :127)

“I’m Not Interested” ( :128)

“I Don’t Do That” ( :128)

“I Have a Rule …” ( :128)

“obnoxious coworker asks if he can join you. Honesty won’t work because you have to coexist with your coworker.” ( :128)

“I Just Wanted to Clarify …” ( :128)

“Is There Anything You Can Do for Me?” ( :129)

“If you phrase your clarification question correctly, it will shine an indirect light on the problem and provide a face-saving escape path. In many cases the clarification you receive will actually be an entirely new and more rational plan. No one likes to be proven wrong, but most people will be happy to “clarify,” even if the clarification is a complete reversal of an earlier position. It just feels different when you call something a clarification. Is There Anything You Can Do for Me? We all find ourselves in situations where an organization or person is preventing us from achieving whatever it is that we perceive as just and fair. Perhaps a retail store is refusing to take a return item, or you purchased the wrong model and the one you want is out of stock. You need to persuade someone to go above and beyond the rules to make you happy. You know that if you get angry and demanding the person you’re dealing with might stick to the rules and try to brush you off. The most powerful way to approach a situation like this is to ask, “Is there anything you can do for me?” You will discover it to be an extraordinarily persuasive question. The question frames you as the helpless victim and the person you are trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver. That’s a self-image that people like to reinforce when they have the chance. All you’re doing is creating that opportunity. When you deputize someone to be your problem solver, you create a situation in which he or she has a clear payoff: Helping nice people always feels good. All you need to do is be polite and ask a direct question: “Is there anything you can do for me?” You’ll be amazed how well it works. Thank You” ( :129)

“This Is Just Between You and Me” ( :130)

“Wrong: “I buried my boss in the backyard.” Right: “I probably shouldn’t admit this, but every time Jane serves her dip I only pretend to like it because everyone else says it’s to die for.”” ( :130)

“Decisiveness” ( :130)

“Insanity 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.” ( :130)

“Crazy people also take more risks and act more confidently than the facts would warrant. That’s a potent combination. Crazy + confident probably kills more people than any other combination of personality traits, but when it works just right, it’s a recipe for extraordinary persuasion. Cults are a good example of insanity being viewed as leadership.” ( :131)

“Emotions don’t bend to reason. So wrap your arguments in whatever emotional blankets you can think of to influence others. A little bit of irrationality is a powerful thing.” ( :131)

“Is Persuasion the Same as Manipulation? If you see persuasion as a form of manipulation, and you see manipulation as a form of evil, that worldview will keep you from being as persuasive as you might be. I think most people hold back their full powers of persuasion because it doesn’t feel good to be manipulative.” ( :131)

“Sometimes you need to nudge people onto the right path even if they firmly believe it to be wrong. In some cases you have a moral obligation to be manipulative if you know it will create a good result for all involved. For example, manipulating coworkers to do better work is usually good for everyone.” ( :131)

“the serious voice will send an unambiguous signal that the topic is important and you might not be open to negotiating.” ( :132)

“Throughout my corporate years I used a serious-sounding tone of voice whenever I was in “professional” mode. I was literally acting, but it didn’t feel disingenuous because the business world is a lot like theater. Everyone tries to get into character for the job they have.” ( :132)

“I’m reasonably sure that my fake voice, with its low notes and artificial confidence, made me appear more capable than I was, and that wasn’t difficult because I was largely incompetent at every corporate job I held.” ( :132)

“lack of ability, nearly every boss I had—and there were many—identified me as a future corporate executive.” ( :132)

“I also noticed during my corporate years that women who had never met me in person flirted like crazy on the phone whenever I used my fake professional voice. I assume the same voice qualities 7 that indicate potential for leadership also influence potential mates.” ( :133)

“For starters, it helps to learn to breathe from the bottom of your lungs, not in the upper chest area. Proper breathing has lots of other benefits, including stress reduction, increased and more efficient 8 metabolism, and better physical stamina, so it’s worth learning. If you put your hand on your belly button and breathe correctly, that’s the only part of your torso that should be rising and falling. If your upper chest is expanding when you breathe normally, you’re doing it wrong. When you get your breathing right, your words will come out sounding more confident.” ( :133)

“You want to get rid of the hemming and hawing, the “ums” and “uhs,” and anything that disrupts your flow. That takes practice. The quickest fix is simply to substitute silence where you once had “ums” and “uhs.” It will feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it.” ( :133)


Chapter Twenty-two
Pattern Recognition


“As far as I know, Stephen Covey’s seven habits didn’t budge the poverty rate, so there are probably deeper patterns at play.” ( :137)

“1. Lack of fear of embarrassment 2. Education (the right kind) 3. Exercise” ( :137)

“Then there’s education. Do you know what the unemployment rate is for engineers? It is nearly zero. Do you know how many engineers like their jobs? Most of them do, despite what you read in Dilbert comics.” ( :137)

“If you don’t have much of one, you can compensate with a lot of the other. When you see a successful person who lacks a” ( :137)

“college education, you’re usually looking at someone with an unusual lack of fear.” ( :138)


Chapter Twenty-three


“People who enjoy humor are simply more attractive than people who don’t. It’s human nature to want to spend time with people who can appreciate a good laugh or, better yet, cause one.” ( :140)

“1 Studies show that a good sense of humor even makes you seem smarter. One study showed that women seek out men with a better sense of humor because it can signal that 2 they may be “amusing, kind, understanding, dependable.”” ( :140)

“The boost of energy will even make you more willing to exercise, and that will raise your overall energy even more.” ( :140)

“Obviously you want to avoid the label of “tries too hard” when it comes to humor. That’s generally a problem only if you laugh too vigorously at your own jokes or other people’s jokes. So-called dry humor is the best strategy if you plan to go for quantity.” ( :141)

“Overcomplaining is never funny. Don’t overdo the self-deprecation. Don’t mock people. Avoid puns and wordplay.” ( :141)

“humor is a violation of straight-line thinking.” ( :141)


Chapter Twenty-four


“”I, Scott Adams, will become an astronaut.” The details of affirmations probably don’t matter much because the process is about improving your focus, not summoning magic.” ( :145)

“My second attempt involved a girl I perceived to be far out of my league. I’ll shortcut that story by saying a series of coincidences lined up to make the unlikely happen, albeit briefly. But again, this wasn’t proof that affirmations work.” ( :146)

“Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley and assumed I was on my way to becoming a CEO of something important someday, and I didn’t think I needed any help to get there. That plan did not work out. The next time I used affirmations it was in pursuit of the rarest, most desirable job I have ever imagined. The affirmation went like this: “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” That worked out better.*” ( :147)


Chapter Twenty-five
Timing Is Luck Too


“The good timing for Dilbert was relentless. In the mid-1990s the media was focusing on the disturbing trend of corporate downsizing, and Dilbert got pushed to the front of the conversation as the symbol of hapless office workers everywhere. Dilbert was on the covers of Time, People, Newsweek, Fortune, Inc., and more. I modified Dilbert to be more workplace focused than it had originally been, and it became a perfect match of a comic with an era.” ( :150)

“I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and” ( :150)

“asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.” ( :151)


Chapter Twenty-six
A Few Times Affirmations Worked


“The Dilbert Principle started strong and within a few weeks hit number one on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. In a matter of months my follow-up book, Dogbert’s Big Book of Business, joined it in the number-two slot. The success of the two books brought me a lot of attention and put a turbo boost on sales of Dilbert to newspapers. The Web site was getting huge traffic by the standards of the day, and I had a booming speaking career on the side. The licensing business for Dilbert took off too. Suddenly it seemed that everything I touched was working.” ( :153)


Chapter Twenty-seven
Voice Update


“The appointment was set for the following week. For seven days I was like Schrödinger’s cat, maybe dead and maybe not. I lived alone in San Francisco and didn’t have much of a social-support structure. It was just me and my one-room apartment. My bed was also my couch. It was a long week.” ( :159)


Chapter Twenty-eight


“My observation and best guess is that 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.” ( :160)


Chapter Twenty-nine
Association Programming


“After Dilbert launched, I continued working my day job at Pacific Bell for several years. Since then, my old boss, Mike Goodwin (who was also the guy who named Dilbert), wrote and published a book about his father’s experience in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t go” ( :162)

“well.) The book, Shobun, was his first attempt as a writer. It didn’t strike me as a huge coincidence that two cubicle rats from Pacific Bell both became published writers. The world is full of such ordinary coincidences.” ( :163)

“After I left Pacific Bell, I learned that another fellow who sat across the cubicle wall from me subsequently wrote a book about his stint in prison for murder. He’s out of jail now, and because I have a policy of being kind to people who strangle acquaintances with belts, I’d like to say he’s a fine fellow and his book is excellent. It’s You Got Nothing Coming: Notes from a Prison Fish, by Jimmy Lerner. What are the odds that three people in one little corner of Pacific Bell could all become published authors?” ( :163)

“His plan was to submit it to a trade magazine and see if it would pay. He had no experience as a writer, but his idea was clever and worthy of sharing. I encouraged him to submit his work, and to my surprise, the magazine accepted it and paid him a hefty (at the time) fee of $1,500.” ( :163)

“Humans are social animals. There are probably dozens of ways we absorb energy, inspiration, skills, and character traits from those around us. Sometimes we learn by example. Sometimes success appears more approachable and ordinary because we see normal people achieve it, and perhaps that encourages us to pursue schemes with higher payoffs.” ( :163)


Chapter Thirty


“For starters, the single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. I’m contrasting that with the more common situation, in which you might be able to do all the things you want, but you can’t often do them when you want.” ( :167)

“But if the only time you were allowed to eat delicious food was right after you’d already filled your stomach with junk food, the delicious meal would not make you happy. A mediocre meal when you’re starving will contribute more to your happiness than an extraordinary meal when you’re not hungry. The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things.” ( :167)

“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, even if the change has no impact on his ability to buy what he wants.” ( :168)

“Just add pessimism and cynicism to any observation and you can manufacture bad news out of thin air. If you know anyone who routinely interprets good news as bad, you know how easily it can be done” ( :169)

“ust add pessimism and cynicism to any observation and you can manufacture bad news out of thin air. If you know anyone who routinely interprets good news as bad, you know how easily it can be done. I’m here to tell you that the primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet, and exercise.” ( :169)

“I’ll cap this discussion by telling you the story of how I felt when my cartooning career reached its high point. It was the late nineties and I had just deposited the biggest check of my life, thanks largely to a multibook publishing deal. I had the precise job I had wanted since childhood. I was officially rich. I was as famous as I wanted to be. And I was suddenly and profoundly sad. What the hell was going on?” ( :170)

“Unhappiness that is caused by too much success is a high-class problem. That’s the sort of unhappiness people work all of their lives to get. If you find yourself there, and I hope you do, you’ll find your attention naturally turning outward. You’ll seek happiness through service to others. I promise it will feel wonderful.” ( :170)

“Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, tells us that people become unhappy if they have too many options in life.” ( :171)


Chapter Thirty-one


“I used to crave ice cream in a big way. At one point in my life I consumed up to two heaping bowls of vanilla-bean ice cream per day. During those years, broccoli seemed like the sort of thing that jailers forced prisoners to eat as punishment. Over time I trained myself to reverse my cravings. Now ice cream is easy to resist but I’m not comfortable going two days without a hit of broccoli. This transformation in cravings was the result of a deliberate effort to change my preferences. I set out to hack my brain like a computer and rewire the cravings circuitry.” ( :174)

“My experience, as odd as it sounds, is that I can change my food preferences by thinking of my body as a programmable robot as opposed to a fleshy bag full of magic. This minor change in perspective is more powerful than it seems. Most people believe there is no strong connection between what they eat and how they feel. I call that perception the Fleshy Bag of Magic worldview.” ( :174)

“Don’t take my word for anything on the topic of diet. People are different, and it seems we learn something new about nutrition every week. You should also have a healthy skepticism about diet studies because they are notoriously bad at sorting out correlation from causation. People who eat caviar probably live longer, but it’s not the caviar keeping them alive; there’s a known correlation between income and life expectancy.” ( :176)

“If you were hungry and I said you couldn’t eat the delicious bread in the breadbasket in front of you, it would take a lot of willpower to resist. But if I said you couldn’t have the delicious bread but you could have anything else you wanted, and you could have it right now, suddenly the bread would be easy to resist.” ( :178)

“A few months ago, as part of my process for writing this book, I put my concept of cravings management to the ultimate test: I quit Diet Coke, cold turkey, after forty-plus years of extraordinarily regular consumption. The first week was hard, I admit. But I substituted coffee, which I also love, whenever I craved Diet Coke, and that greatly reduced my need to use willpower. Week one was a challenge. By week four, it was easy to resist Diet Coke. Eight weeks later, I see Diet Coke as a weird little colored water full of chemicals that I don’t need. My cravings are completely gone, and it didn’t require much of anything in terms of willpower beyond the first several days. I’m even enjoying my greater coffee consumption because I feel more alert all day. And coffee in moderation 4 gets high marks from science for promoting good health.” ( :179)


Chapter Thirty-two


“I have condensed the entire field of fitness advice into one sentence: Be Active Every Day” ( :191)

“That last part is the key. In my experience, any form of exercise that requires willpower is unsustainable. To stay fit in the long run you need to limit your exercise to whatever level doesn’t feel like work, just as kids do. When you take willpower out of the equation and you achieve a solid baseline of daily physical activity, your natural inclination will be to gradually increase your workout. You’ll do it because you want to, and because it will feel easy, and because you know it will feel good. No willpower will be needed.” ( :192)

“If you walk two miles every day for a month and enjoy the leisurely pace, your brain will automatically start to think that walking an extra mile might be even more fun or that running half the way and walking the rest might be interesting. That’s how you turn boredom into a tool. When you are active every day and your body feels good about it, it will become easier to increase your exercise level than it would be to stop it. Ask any dedicated runner, biker, or swimmer how they feel on the occasional off day. They don’t like it. That’s where you want to be. And the only way that happens is if you make fitness—of any kind—a daily habit. Once exercise becomes habitual, you won’t need willpower to keep going because your body and brain will simply prefer it to being a couch spud.” ( :192)

“I did an search on the key word “exercise” and got 125,508 book suggestions.” ( :193)

“I assume most of them require you to use a degree of willpower. That’s a losing strategy no matter how you dress it up and no matter how inspirational the author may be. In the long run, any system that depends on your willpower will fail.” ( :193)

“1. Do thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily. 2. Stretch. 3. Hydrate. 4. Eat protein within thirty minutes of strength training. 5. Carb load the night before a big exercise day. 6. Do resistance/weight training every other day. 7. Do three sets of ten to fifteen reps. 8. Get lots of rest. 9. Vary your workout to create “muscle confusion.” 10. Use proper form for lifting.” ( :193)

“That’s just a partial list. The only people who can do all of that right are serious athletes, personal trainers, the unemployed, and the socially unpopular.” ( :194)

“There are three practical ways to schedule exercise in a marriage or marriagelike situation: 1. Join an organized team. 2. Always exercise at the same time every day. 3. Exercise together (if you both really mean it).” ( :194)

“If team sports aren’t your thing, the next-best solution is to schedule your exercise for the same time every day. Shelly can tell you where I will be on any given Tuesday at 12:40 P.M. I will be at the gym, just finishing my resistance training and heading for some stretching before cardio. Shelly finds my regular exercise schedule inconvenient at times, but it doesn’t feel personal because it’s my system. I don’t decide to be unavailable for a romantic lunch with my wife; I simply have an exercise system. On some level it’s exactly the same, but it sure feels different. And that’s the beauty.” ( :194)

“After that, the most important rule is that you should never exercise so much in one day that you won’t feel like being active the next day.” ( :195)

“the right amount of exercise today is whatever amount makes me look forward to being active tomorrow.” ( :195)

“If you want to make a habit of something, the worst thing you can do is pick and choose which days of the week you do it and which ones you don’t. Exercise becomes a habit when you do it every day without fail. Taking rest days between exercise days breaks up the pattern that creates habits. It also makes it too easy to say today is one of your nonexercise days, and maybe tomorrow too.” ( :195)

“Here’s what I do when I know I should exercise but I feel too tired and droopy to imagine doing a vigorous workout. Instead of doing what I feel I can’t do, I do what I can do—which is put on my exercise clothes and lace my sneakers.” ( :196)

“But once the sneakers and shorts are on, a funny thing happens, and it happens quickly. The physical feeling I get from my exercise clothes triggers the going-to-the-gym subroutine in my brain, and my energy kicks up a notch. It’s like Pavlov’s salivating dogs. The exercise clothes cause me to think positive things about exercising, and that boosts my energy.” ( :196)

“Suddenly the idea of exercising seems possible, if not desirable. There’s one more step, and this too requires granting myself permission to back out at any time. I drive to my local gym, walk in, look around, and see how I feel. About 95 percent of the time this set of cues will put me in a sufficiently energetic mood to go ahead and exercise, and that in turn boosts my mood. But sometimes—and this happened perhaps five times this year, which is typical—I get to the gym, look around, turn, and leave. As I drive home I am not thinking I failed. In fact, I feel exactly the opposite. Failure is for people who have goals. If my goal is to exercise, leaving the gym without breaking a sweat looks and feels like failure. But what I have is not a goal; it is a system. And the system allows leakage. It is designed that way. As I drive home from the gym, a seemingly wasted trip, I never feel defeated. Instead, I feel I am using a system that I know works overall. I win if I exercise, and I win (albeit less) if I use my system and decide not to. Either way, my attitude improves. And at least I get out of the house and clear my head. It’s all good.” ( :196)

“I’m going to start with the assumption that there are three main reasons women want great-looking hair: (1) to attract sexual partners, (2) to improve career potential, and (3) to feel good about themselves. Everyone is different, but those three causes probably cover 85 percent of the reasons.” ( :197)

“My best guess is that what I say next is as near a universal opinion as men can have: We Prefer You Healthy” ( :197)

“A hiring manager will always have a subconscious bias for the healthier-looking applicant, male or female. Humans evolved to have favorable opinions about anyone who looks healthy because it’s a marker for good reproductive odds. That’s why society needs laws that limit discrimination against the differently abled. If your main reason for spending time on your hair is to feel good about yourself, a healthy body will always trump a good hairdo.” ( :197)


Chapter Thirty-three
Voice Update 2


“Dilbert was running in over two thousand newspapers in sixty-five countries.” ( :200)

“And talk they did. Perfectly. Not one of them had a hitch or a hesitation in their words. There was no hoarseness or clipped syllables. Each described the recovery from the operation as unpleasant because they choked nearly every time they tried to eat or drink for quite some time, but they were unanimous in saying it was worth it.” ( :201)


Chapter Thirty-four


“My worldview is that all success is luck if you track it back to its source. Steve Jobs needed to both be born with Steve Jobs’s DNA and meet a fellow named Steve Wozniak. If Bill Gates had been born where I was born, he would have been shooting woodchucks on weekends to help the local dairy farmers instead of learning to program computers. Warren Buffett makes a similar observation about his own skills, saying, in effect, that if he had been born in an earlier time, his natural talents wouldn’t have matched the opportunities” ( :204)

“Every decision you make is a simple math product of those variables. What good is a book that discusses success if success is entirely luck? That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wonder. And it matters because if you believe all success is based on luck, you’re not likely to try as hard as if you believe success comes from hard work. No matter what genes and circumstances you have, history tells us you still need to work hard to pull it off. Does a belief in pure luck work against you? It can, but it doesn’t need to.” ( :204)


Chapter Thirty-five
CalendarTree Start-up


“I often tried to speak during those months, just to see what would happen. But indeed, my brain was no longer communicating with my vocal cords. It was an odd feeling. So I whispered when I was at home, wrote notes when I was in noisy environments, choked on everything that went down my throat, and waited. I also repeated my affirmations in my head, if for no other reason than to prop up my optimism: I, Scott Adams, will speak perfectly.” ( :209)


Chapter Thirty-six
Voice Update 3


“with disbelief. She said, “You just … talked.” And indeed I had. It wasn’t much of a voice. It was weak and breathy and I couldn’t sustain it beyond a few words at a time. But right on schedule, my brain and my vocal cords were becoming reacquainted. It wasn’t success. It was just a start. I had months to go before knowing if the surgery had worked in any meaningful way. And I was worlds away from fulfilling my affirmation of speaking “perfectly.” But it was something. It was a lot. I cried.” ( :209)

“I still get a bit hoarse after exercise. And I’ll never have a radio-quality voice. So aesthetically my voice remains less than ideal. But functionally, my voice is indeed perfect. I have escaped from my prison cell of silence. And life has never been more enjoyable or more satisfying.” ( :210)

“If you think your odds of solving your problem are bad, don’t rule out the possibility that what is really happening is that you are bad at estimating odds.” ( :210)


Chapter Thirty-seven
A Final Note About Affirmations


“We know the brain creates illusions because there are so many competing religions in the world. Assuming you picked the right religion, all of those other poor souls are living in a deep illusion. Your neighbor might think he remembers his previous life, while you think you saw God during your heart bypass surgery. You can’t both be right. But you could both be wrong, and both of you might be experiencing delusions of reality that somehow don’t kill you.” ( :213)

“To put it in simpler terms, affirmations might work for perfectly logical reasons our brains aren’t equipped to understand.” ( :213)


Chapter Thirty-eight


“Once you optimize your personal 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.” ( :216)

“Avoid career traps such as pursuing jobs that require you to sell your limited supply of time while preparing you for nothing better.” ( :216)

“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.” ( :217)

“And always remember that failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Invite it in. Learn from it. And don’t let it leave until you pick its pocket. That’s a system. The End” ( :217)

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