The best success books follow a pattern, usually

The best success books have a formula that makes them easy to read.

They focus on a narrow topic that’s easily compressed into an enticing title—like, for example: “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” That simple formula also makes the books easy to sell to the self-improvement crowd.

If you want to be successful teaching people to succeed you stick to the formula.

Only a bold self-help author would dare tackle “how to make it big in life.” And if they included the phrase “how to fail” in the book’s title? Well, you’d think they were crazy too.

Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created Dilbert, is undoubtedly bold. His new book is called How to Fail At Almost Everything And Still Make it Big. The book is supposedly “kind of the story of his life.”

Since I’ve long enjoyed Adams’ blog posts, I thought I would enjoy learning how he grew up and became a famous cartoonist. After reading a few pages, I realized that Adams had written a cleverly disguised self-help book.

I tend to read a lot of self-improvement books, and I’m used to the pattern they all follow. What Adams’ has written is “success book,” but one that ignores the rules.

Here’s what How to Fail is in a nutshell: concise, puzzling, witty, useful, thought-provoking, inspiring, funny and totally weird. In short, it’s pure magic.

It’s clear, from how the book unfolds, that Adams’ main goal was to help a lot of people, even those who weren’t looking to be helped. Obviously, he doesn’t expect every reader will have “big success” in life.  Yet his simple, but unusual, tips will surely increase their odds.

By now, you can tell I’m a huge fan of this book.

Still, I’m compelled to admit it does have one major flaw—which hopefully a future edition will address. It doesn’t explain how to time travel back to when you were twenty years old, which severely limits how much you can leverage his advice.

But despite that drawback, I highly recommend that you read it and experience the magic for yourself.

Fair warning, now that you know the book contains self-improvement advice: most of what Adams says is counterintuitive, or at least contrary to common wisdom. For example:

  • Goals are for losers, and systems are for winners (his book is actually a system, disguised as an entertaining life story)
  • “Passion” is hokey crap; what you really need is personal energy (he explains what that is and how to manage it).
  • A combination of mediocre skills can provide a huge advantage in business (he explains which ones to focus on, and how to best learn them).
  • You can manage your odds in a way that makes you look lucky to others (his insights into human psychology are priceless)

So, why did Adams emphasize the word “fail” in the title of his book? As he explains it:

“Everything you want out of life is in a bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.”

Scott Adams has discovered a bunch of neat tricks for getting the good stuff out. You may know some of them. But many of his tips will scramble your mind, probably because they run counter to predictable patterns.

Only a bold, semi-kooky author would attempt to write a success book like How to Fail At Almost Everything And Still Make it Big. Only an established author could convince mainstream publishers to print and distribute it. Everything about the book is improbable and amazing.

It’s definitely the best self-improvement book I’ve ever read.

(small bonus: it even includes a bullet-point summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People).

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