In his new book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip shares his secret to success: failure. Scott Adams joins us to tell the story of how he flopped as a restaurant owner, investor and office worker before becoming a successful cartoonist.

Scott Adams, cartoonist, creator of "Dilbert" and author of "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life"

  • I’ll be Frank

    I believe American culture is mistake-phobic and failure-phobic. But to a large extent the flip side of that, namely an obsession with winning and money-accumulation, has condemned us to live in a moral vacuum in which we collectively lament living in a society where the power of money has corrupted our political system, trivialized our holidays, and has led to the outsourcing of jobs, and yet these are consequences of morality-free pursuit of money and “success”.

    • geraldfnord

      When the ethos pushed is one of ‘succeed or be a loser…and we don’t like “losers”‘, to the point where there are many who believe that it were only right that failures die of it, it makes sense to grab as much as you can while you can, It also has the effect of making people hate the ‘losers’, as hating is a great way to assert that you are nothing like the people you’re hating, and so in no danger of joining them…which in turn encourages the ethos that it were positively _wrong_ to hurt losers.

      • I’ll be Frank

        The USA has long embraced a simple, moronic logic that justifies something like Social Darwinism.

        It’s worth pointing out the Eugenics began in California before it was picked up by the Nåzis in Germany.

        “Mistakes are stepping stones to success.” — Charles E. Popplestone

  • Eli Wolfe
  • geraldfnord

    How well will Mr Adams’ prescriptions work for the vast majority who will, almost by definition, not wind-up at the top? Can one fail repeatedly, win moderately, fail again, &c., and still sufficient means by which to live decently and (of course) afford cartoon books or on-line subscriptions?

    I admire and occasionally practise excellence, but I’m concerned about how well society works for the mediocre…because 0.) I believe ‘basic human dignity’ is a useful concept, if only because it provides a floor for my own treatment, and 1.) if a society doesn’t work well for people, has educated them into the notion that you can be happy in this world and it’s your fault if you’re not, and allowed a proliferation of weapons among the ones unhappy…well, at the very least, it would not bode well for respect for property rights.

  • Ayn Marx 666`

    Which is safer, posting a cubicle-wall full of “Dilbert”‘s often funny and valid complaints about modern business, or one small sign saying, ‘I think that we who work here could work together to create better working conditions for ourselves.’?

  • Bob Fry

    Using the very occasional person who finally succeeds big after several failures as a role model is like the religious people who hold up the very occasional (coincidental) answer to prayer as a role model. It’s simply unrealistic and basically counterproductive.

    • Scott Adams

      My point is that you can move from bad odds to good odds. Going to college, for example, does just that. So does failing and learning from it. I wasn’t suggesting that everyone can fail their way to my job.

      • Hunter Mann

        Thanks for your comments here Scott, and on the radio interview. I think you did get lucky. As you know there are thousands of artists in America who will never come close to such success. As well, there are people who have made it big in the arts, but fell back into poverty. Some bounce back even stronger, others not. I worked for 2 years on the film crew of the number one TV show at that time. Though I made a few thousand bucks a week, a few years later I was working for a circus for $2 an hour(yes, not legal), and a year after that homeless.(I have no substance abuse problems to blame for it). Far too many people assume that everyone in the “movie biz” gets rich and stays rich.
        If life is a bank account, then I am wealthy with life experiences, but still ride the roller coaster of being a have and then back to being a have not. A shame that most people in the arts do not get basic money management skills offered to them in school. Cheers to your success man!

  • I’ll be Frank

    If health plus freedom is success, and I agree that’s a good definition, then would not a homeless couple living in an RV on a street in a quiet cul de sac in a sunny California city, going to the gym daily and working part-time be the most successful people?

    • Scott Adams

      Yes, if that is their preference. What was your point?

      • I’ll be Frank

        I’m reminded of the saying that there are 2 paths to affluence:

        1. Earn much and spend much
        2. Earn little and spend little

        • Hunter Mann

          3. Earn much spend little… that’s how many of the rich stay rich. Whether it’s in NYC or Mexico City, I see that many rich people spend big on a meal & drinks, but tip very little, if at all. Heaven forbid they improve the lives of someone in the servant class.forbid

    • Hunter Mann

      Good point, but from my observation over the years, most of the people living in RVs on the street in Santa Monica, Burbank, Venice, etc. are pretty miserable, if they go to gyms it is for the showers not to work out, they live on dollar store food, and many of them are seriously addicted to alcohol, cheap coffee & cigarettes. Their RV is their home, I think that’s good, but they are not really happy, healthy or really that successful. The average RV I see on the street there is a 1970’s to 80’s gas hog RV with all kinds of mechanical troubles. Those “happy campers” are not exactly on vacation, hitting the open highway to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Key West, far from it.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Dilbert, the strip is grand, but Scott Adams sounds like a tool to live with. A “Christmas closet” – really?? His strict utilitarian approach is simplistic and iconoclastic. Having success as a cartoonist doesn’t make Scott the authority on life he seems to think he is.

    • Scott Adams

      Simple and utilitarian is working well for me. How’s magic working out for you?

  • adamjdlm

    Just listing to this guy I understand why I dislike dilbert.

    • Hunter Mann

      I think I’ve looked at his cartoons maybe 20 times in my life. I think it would be more amusing to me if I had worked in a cubicle farm(office) in my life. Hey, I love The Office tv show, but somehow I don’t feel very drawn(no pun) to comics that are on that subject. I think that Scott will truly be a success when his work gets featured in The New Yorker magazine. Another great mark might be to have a film done about him, i.e. Crumb, i.e. American Splendor.

  • Penny Berger

    Mr. Adams talks about “the government” as if it were some foreign or
    alien force. The “government” is 538 elected officials and if a
    majority of people agree with Mr. Adams that we should allow physician
    assisted suicide (as I do, by the way), then they would be voting for
    people who agree as well and the laws would change. People need to take
    responsibility for “the government” by being more involved in the
    political and electoral process instead of sitting back and talking
    about it as if we have no responsibility for what we get. Penny Berger

    • Scott Adams

      In all likelihood, my speaking out on the topic will accelerate change. And I did that at great personal career risk. What the hell did YOU do today?

    • I’ll be Frank

      I used to say:

      Politicians are whòres
      Lobbyists are pìmps
      Corporations are johns
      Congress is a bròthel

      Then I learned that something like 10 Monsânto executives now hold the top positions at the FDA.
      Houston …we have a problem.

  • I’ll be Frank

    I’d like to learn what Scott thinks of the Valleywag blog or even TechDirt.

    By the way, why does Scott keep mentioning cubicles when such things hardly exist any longer?

  • Hunter Mann

    Kudos to Krasny for being able to deal with an interview where the guest gets so far off-topic and wanders so far from things.
    While I understand that Scott hates being quoted out of context, I think his big problem may be control: i.e. he may not have allowed any test-readings our copy editors a chance to proof-read his book. I comment on this because Scott’s words about women, while the quote was out of context, it is Scott’s writing problem, not that of the readers/reviewers. Instead of offering a disclaimer before he makes a big, bold, broad statement, he instead makes the statement, and then tags on an apology afterward, like he is giving the disclaimer in the wrong order. Any good copy-editor would have caught that. I only have an 8th grade education(I slept, skipped and stayed high through high school).

  • Hunter Mann

    Many measure success differently. I know I prefer top pursue wealth not riches. During the past 35 years I have worked for many millionaires who were miserable, not time to enjoy their money, even vacations are a stressful thing, they lead pretty empty lives with a mask of happiness covering it all up. These were millionaires from the music & film industry, the restaurant industry and even the circus industry. Is Scott has found financial success and internal success, good for him. I like that he did not let failure with other work keep him from moving upward. He is humble when he states that he is a not the greatest cartoonist and writer, but he found a beautiful combination. I liken this to Bob Dylan: bad singer, okay guitarist, bad harmonica player, but somehow the combination of it all is really lovely to hear.
    In recent years I realized that I made a mistake to “surround myself with successful people”. It made my financial poverty seem more apparent, more inescapable, and has been depressing. The worst was seeing how successful TV commercial producers are that dress badly, tell foul jokes, have bad hygiene, are heavy drinkers, chain-smokers and are often on their 3rd or 4th bad marriage. I often wondered if my key to financial success would be to simply mimic their life/style, yuck! Ironic that I ever dressed in a jacket and tie to beg a job from those rich slobs, especially since I was begging for work that pays $200/day, while they make easily $5,000 to $15,000 a day. Go figure! (math is never pretty)

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