How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Printable: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Basically, do’s and don’ts on how to be successful and how to keep going despite the failures that will surely emerge with a pinch of good old humor. In this long titled book, Scott Adams, the creator of the famous Dilbert comic strip, shares personal elements of his life, his huge list of failed businesses, and what he learned along the way. Things like why passion is bullshit and how to build a system that will help you make money. But whilst most of the tips shared are good and related to the main topic (biz success), the text itself offers almost nothing new.

The Core Idea:

Success and failure go hand in hand. It’s unlikely for someone to succeed at something before miserably failing at a bunch of other things. It takes effort, stamina, and persistence to “make it.” The main things Scott Adams talks about in the book are maintaining high energy and having a positive attitude. These two mental tools, although simple, are often enough to help you keep on trying till your face is finally printed on a cover of a magazine.


  • You need to be selfish, but not too selfish, to get what you want out of life.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude despite the setbacks is key.
  • The only way you can secure your future fortune is by creating a system.

5 Key Lessons from How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:

Lesson #1: Create a Bullshit Filter

An odd way to start a book, but in the preface of the title – if you decide to read it – you’ll find six tips that aim to help you filter the useful information from the rubbish in relation to starting a business, making decisions, or making conclusions based on what others are sharing.

Scott Adams shares six bullshit filters to help readers decide what part of the book is useful for them. But not only. He thinks that the ability to quickly spot absurdity when you see it (hear it) is a worthy instrument – regardless of the discussed topic. And I tend to agree with him.

If you’re naive by nature and if you can’t quickly spot the important things in a situation or in a text. Or you simply blindly obey what self-proclaimed gurus say, you’ll struggle to find the correct approach. Thus, your chances of failure will increase.

So, here are six bullshit filters that will help you when tackling difficult problems:

  1. Personal experience: Your past experience can help but on a lot of occasions it can also steer you in the wrong direction.
  2. Experience of people you know: People rarely share the full story that’s why you can’t rely on everything they say.
  3. Experts: As the author writes, “They work for money, not truth.”
  4. Scientific studies: Scientists conduct controlled experiments and share their observations but a lab test is not what happens in real life.
  5. Common sense: Often our ego prevails and bends the truth.
  6. Pattern recognition: Understanding patterns sounds like a good way to make a decision but we’re often biased towards a specific outcome.

Since the above are not to be used, what we should take into consideration when deciding whether or not something is right or wrong?

Consistency. Your observations of a particular task for a long period of time are more reliable than what scientists or experts say.

That’s why we need to fail so many times before we succeed. Failure provides us with a flow of data that helps us see what is working and what is not.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to fail a thousand times, you can simply read books about how others failed. This will make you less likely to go wrong.

“When seeking truth, your best bet is to look for confirmation on at least two of the dimensions I listed. For example, if a study indicates that eating nothing but chocolate cake is an excellent way to lose weight, but your friend who tries the diet just keeps getting fatter, you have two dimensions out of agreement. (Three if you count common sense.) That’s a lack of consistency.” Scott Adams

Lesson #2: Be Selfish

You need to be kind. You need to give to others. You need to make other people’s desires your priority… That’s what you’ll hear from the majority of the successful people out there.

But Scott Adams says otherwise.

He’ll prompt you to be selfish and make you think about your own personal desires, first.

Wait, what?

Yes, apparently, in the world there are three kinds of people:

  1. Stupid.
  2. Burden on others.
  3. Selfish.

Let’s add a quick annotation to all of them:

  • Being stupid: If you’re solely interested in satisfying other people’s needs before yours, you’ll live a really unsatisfactory life (i.e., you are stupid). You can’t please everyone. That’s why the categorization is stupid. No offense.
  • Burden on others: Unfortunately, this sometimes happens whether we want it or not. If you have some sort of disease, even if you don’t want to be, you’ll be of a burden. The best approach in this situation is to be selfish, so you can cure yourself.
  • Selfish: Being selfish doesn’t mean neglecting other folks and acting like an asshole. It’s more about focusing on what you want from life, doing it, succeeding, and then helping others. Kind of in that order.

After all, you can’t maintain a business, learn a new skill, get fit, if you constantly say yes to other people. You simply won’t have time to do your own thing. That’s why you probably need to be a bit more selfish in your life.

“If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society… Most successful people give more than they personally consume, in the form of taxes, charity work, job creation, and so on.” Scott Adams

Lesson #3: Oversee Your Attitude

I’m sure you already know what you need to do in order to master a skill, to get a new job, or to start a business. You need to get up, work hard, and avoid distractions. Yet, we rarely follow through.

We get distracted, lazy, ditch our good habits, and we eventually go back to old ways of doing things.

Why? Why we can’t concentrate? Why we can’t stick to the tasks we know can help us?

According to Scott Adams, if we want to stay in the game long enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we need to make sure our attitude is elevated.

Maintaining a positive attitude is an important tool. It’s neglected, not often mentioned, and surely something that sounds insignificant, but it has the power to change your life.

After all, you can’t survive defeat if you lock yourself in a room and cry for days. Only by making sure your attitude is positive you can get back trying when things go wrong.

How to make sure you’re happy all the time?

Three main things:

  1. Good food.
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Enough sleep.

If you eat right, sleep well, and train regularly, you’ll raise your energy and keep an upbeat mood that will help you bounce back when life punches you in the face.

Lesson #4: Create a System

Even if we’re humble, we still want a lot of things: a big house, a nice car, good health, family, education, a meaningful job, social media fame.

Unfortunately, we can’t have it all. There’s always a trade-off. Either you don’t have enough time for your family if you have a business or because of your family, you can’t pursue your passion.

But there is a way! Something you can do to have it all. Or at least be closer to where you want in life.

What’s this magic thing?

Having a system in place.

Think of your biz as an assembly line. You want well-defined processes that are either executed by a machine or are clearly stated so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you’re behind the desk.

Here the internet and technological progress come in handy. Create a site and think of ways to automate the majority of your tasks. In addition, you’ll also want to set restrictions. To have a well-defined process when creating your products. These two, the self-imposed limitations and the automation will boost your productivity and free up your schedule for the people and projects that matter most.

This is the only way you can maintain a work-life balance.

“Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.” Scott Adams

Lesson #5: Spot Patterns of Successful People

We all want to be successful like the people we see online.

We watch their videos, read their books, listen to their podcasts. On top of that, we buy the gear our beloved gurus use hoping that imitating their behavior will help us become rich ourselves.

But will buying “must-use” tools and following 1,253+ entrepreneurs on Twitter all with blue badges help you become world-class?


Some things simply work while others don’t. The best thing you can do is to understand what rich people do and tailor these things accordingly.

The patterns for reaching heights Scott Adams considers important are the following three:

  1. Lack of fear of embarrassment: If you are afraid of failure and of public embarrassment you’re missing out. For example, if your product starts gaining traction, people will invite you on stage. If you’re refuse because you’re afraid of public speaking you’ll miss an important opportunity.
  2. The right kind of education: These days you don’t need a college degree to get a good job. You simply need to understand what you want to do and learn the skills needed for that job. Fortunately, we all have access to everything thanks to the internet. So it basically boils down to figuring out what you want to do.
  3. Exercise: You can’t become rich and famous if you’re constantly ill. Good health is of major importance. Exercising will not only help you get in shape but it will also keep your energy high.

There’s one extra pattern mentioned in the book:

“There’s one more pattern I see in successful people: They treat success as a learnable skill. That means they figure out what they need and they go and get it.” Scott Adams

Actionable Notes:

  • Learn business writing: A skill the author highlights as important in the book is business writing. This type of composing text is different from your every day doodling on paper. The essence of business writing is the ability to explain clearly the gist of a specific topic while leaving out the unimportant stuff.
  • Your highest priority is you: If you’re not OK, your spouse and your kids won’t be OK. It’s simple as that. Taking care of your health and your emotional well being is of great importance. If you’re in a bad mood, if you’re financially unstable, you’re no good to the people around you. So, fix yourself and then try fixing the world.
  • Passion is bullshit: Passion can get you excited about something but passion alone won’t be enough to get the job done. If you’re starting something only because you’re passionate, you’re starting for the wrong reason. Your success ratio will increase only if you mix passion with hard work. And hard work is not that exciting.
  • Practice something that has economic value: Playing tennis, video games, leveling up your yoyo game, becoming world-class at Super Mario, are nice to have skills. Yet, these “powers” won’t actually help you find a good job or scale your existing business. You need to master a specific skill that has an economic value – i.e. something people will pay you for.
  • Write affirmations: Long before Scott Adams become a successful cartoonist he wrote the following sentence a couple of times a day: “I, Scott Adams will be a famous cartoonist.” Can affirmations alone help you make it? Of course not. Still, they are a great way to stay on track and remind yourself what you want to achieve.

Commentary and My Personal Takeaway

If you’re a fan of Dilbert and Stott Adams in particular, you’ll surely enjoy the read.

The book is exactly what the title entails: the unfiltered story of Scott Adam’s life. How he failed at almost everything but eventually managed to succeed.

Yet, the book is nothing special – a guy sharing his story and the lessons he learned along the way. Yes, there are few nuggets that are worth checking if you are planning to start your own business, no matter the industry – most of them are already mentioned above – but nothing groundbreaking.

My key takeaway is the following:

There is good selfishness and bad selfishness. Bad is when you’re can’t stop talking about yourself, good is when you want to improve your life so you can improve the lives of others. You need to focus on the second kind.

Notable Quotes:

“My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over thirty years, said the best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet.” Scott Adams

“We tend to feel happy when things are moving in the right direction and unhappy when things are trending bad…. 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.” Scott Adams

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.” Scott Adams

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