Scott Adams failure book


I prefer to embrace my ignorance…I might be one of the least credible people on Earth.” – Scott Adams

One of my favourite writers devoting an entire book to the concept of embracing failure. Such an insightful and enjoyable read that I have bought several copies to give to friends and family. It is definitely the book that I wish someone had given me when I was young. This un-self-help book has more gritty smarts than most buzzword rehashing guru tomes. And it’s funny to boot.

The centrepiece of the book is the notion that “Goals are for losers.” Like much of Adams’ caricature drawing illustration, it is a bit of an exaggeration to make a point. The moral of the story is really that the means matter more than ends. Not so much a Zen-like “the journey is more important than the destination”, but more “focusing on the journey gets you to the best destination.”

Often the Leadership/Management debate is frames is framed along these lines, ie. Leaders pursue ends, Managers pursue means. I’m not a fan of that delineation nor would I think Adams would be given his flag-bearing campaign waged against managers (well, at least the pointed-haired ones)

Adams also goes into a range of topics such a diet, spasmodic dysphonia and affirmations which are intriguing in their own right. His concept that “energy levels” are a critical success factor in life reasonates with my life experience and parallels a number of management gurus (eg. Marcus Buckingham, Mike Pegg)

But the highlights were of course his giant bear hug embrace of failure which I’ve excerpted a few choice selections below…


  • Over the years I have cultivated a unique relationship with failure. I invite it. I survive it. I appreciate it. And then I mug the shit out of it…Pretty much everything I know about grabbing failure by the throat and squeezing it until it coughs up a hairball of success.”
  • Failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight.”
  • I’ve long seen failure as a tool, not an outcome.”
  • 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 that I never have to buy fertilizer again. Failure is a resource that can be managed.”


  • If you think I’m full of crap on any particular idea or another, there’s a healthy chance you’re right. But being 100 percent right isn’t my goal. I’m presenting some new ways to think about the process of finding happiness and success.”
  • Humility is your friend. When you can release your ego long enough to view your perceptions as incomplete or misleading, it gives you the freedom to imaging new and potential more useful ways of looking at the world.”
  • 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.”
  • “When it comes to the topic of generosity, there 3 kinds of people in the world – 1. Selfish, 2. Stupid, 3. Burden on others. That’s the entire list. Your best option is to be selfish…If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to societyIt’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…If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.”
  • Most people think they have perfectly good bullshit detectors. But if that were the case, trial juries would always be unanimous, and we’d all have the same religious beliefsWhen it comes to any big or complicated question, humility is the only sensible point of view.”


  • ’Wow, That was brave,’ is the best and cleanest example I’ve seen in which looking at something in a different way changes everything. When the instructor switched our focus from the student’s poor speaking performance to her bravery, everything changed. Positivity is far more than a mental preference. It changes your brain, literally, and it changes the people around you. It’s the nearest thing we have to magic.”
  • My experience with hypnosis complete changed the way I view people and how I interpret the choices they make. I no longer see reason as the driver to behaviour. I see simple cause and effect, similar to the way machines operate. If you believe people use reason for the important decisions in life, you will go through like feeling confused and frustrated that others seem to have bad reasoning skills.”
  • 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 if more effective than a hundred rational arguments. That’s even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie.”
  • (over 4 pages, he lists all of the “Cognitive Biases” found in Wikipedia to underscore the point)


  • If you want success, then figure out the price, then pay it.”
  • Another clue to talent is tolerance for risk…I was willing to take a significant personal risk for my so-called art, and this was in sharp contrast to my otherwise risk-averse lifestyle. People generally accept outsized risks only when they expect big payoffsWhere there is a tolerance for risk, there is often talent.”
  • “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 a player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and 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 have to do is stay in the game long enough.”