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Book Review: How To Fail At Almost Everything & Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams
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Book Review: How To Fail At Almost Everything & Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: How To Fail At Almost Everything & Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: How To Fail At Almost Everything & Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

“Success is entirely accessible, even if you happen to be a huge screwup 95 percent of the time.” - Scott Adams

For four years, Dilbert creator Scott Adams was unable to speak to human beings. He could speak normally when alone, or in the company of his cat, and he could perform memorized speeches, but he could not converse without his vocal chords cutting off certain consonant sounds, resulting in speech that sounded like a bad cell phone call.

In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything And Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (Penguin, 2013), Adams tells how this unfortunate physical failure is just one of a series of failures that, together, contributed to his success as one of the most popular comic-strip artists in the world, a dream that he’d held onto from his earliest years through graduate school and in the corporate world. Beginning with his first job interview, which he didn’t even get seated for when he showed up dressed like a college student, Adams leveraged every failure to squeeze through a new opening, each time gaining more responsibility, higher pay, and greater knowledge.

The knowledge is key, and it is a recurring theme throughout the book. Adams may have failed at each of his jobs before finally getting his shot at national comic strip syndication, but by seizing every opportunity to take classes paid for by his employers, he broadened his knowledge and skills, increasing the likelihood that good luck would eventually find him.

Readers who avoid the self-help shelf in the bookstore may have difficulty with much of this book: it has a very self-helpy tone, ‘though Adams is quick to point out that “This is not an advice book. If you’ve ever taken advice from a cartoonist, there’s a good chance it didn’t end well.” Still, How to Fail is structured around the basic idea that failure is simply part of the system that works for him, and it hopes to give its reader some here’s-how-I-did-it inspiration in realms as diverse as physical health, personal energy, self-affirmation, skills acquisition, and the pursuit of happiness. Much of it is likely to turn off the most self-help-averse in the audience.

Adams’s style is conversational and readable. If lacking somewhat in elegance, his sentences slide across the page easily and clearly. A comic artist’s skill, as he explains, is to strip everything down to its humorous essence, communicating the most meaning from the fewest words and pen strokes. It would be an exaggeration to say his book is stylistically a prose version of his comic strip, but there is definitely kinship between Adams the artist and Adams the writer.

Sprinkling his treatise with humorous examples and anecdotes, Adams is careful not to step too far into laugh-fest territory, determined that his audience will take seriously the possibilities that lie in his approach, which begins with “Goals are for losers,” ends with “Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing,” and makes stops along the way at “Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success” and “Luck can be managed, sort of.” Lest any reader forget, however, there are very funny Dilbert strips reinforcing his argument, scattered throughout the prose.

Fans of the comic strip who wish to get a closer look at the personality who created it will find much to enjoy. Readers eager to get a fresh look at one person’s journey to success after multiple, repeated failures will gain some insight on resilience, optimism, and giving luck its best chance to be favorable. Hardcore dislikers of self-help books will likely want to stay away, but if a little bit of “here’s what worked for me” doesn’t turn you off, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is an interesting, enjoyable read.

 

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Book Review: How To Fail At Almost Everything & Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams - Executive Leadership Articles

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