“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” by Scot Adams. – Book Review

Monthly Book Review by the Vanguard Book Club


Review of “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” by Scot Adams.

Scot Adams in this brilliant work attempts to create a personal roadmap for each reader on how to overcome obstacles and bounce back from setbacks using personally tested and proven models. At first sight, you might be tempted to assume this is another very high-sounding self-help book until you race through the introduction. For the readers whose opinions are captured in this summary, the introduction sounds like a disclaimer that does the job of warning you and warming you up to the author. The warning tells you to brace up for a very bumpy ride and the style, depending on your personality and preferences, makes you warm up to the author for his very unusual frankness and openness about life and the things that few of us are bold enough to say on the business of living. Let’s give it to him, Scot was down to earth and downright vulnerable in a manner that leaves most of us running for the blankets.

At the outset, the reader might lose some balance, especially when Scot in a very characteristic manner declared “being 100 percent right isn’t my goal. I’m presenting some new ways to think about the process of finding happiness and success. Compare them with what you know, what you do, and what others suggest. Every person finds his or her own special formula.” At that point, you might want to close the book and go sip some coffee. What’s the point of a treatise on how to succeed when the author is not even certain he’s right? After all, books are supposed to be the repository of truth, and truth has to be the universal definition of right, right?

In this book, Scot takes the regular things we believe about life and turns it on its head, leaving the reader with the job of serious introspection and deep reflections for personal application and correlations. Selfishness is perhaps one of the most loathed words in English or any other language. However, Scot turns the understanding of the word around by making the reader see that the sum of parts is in each unit. It simply tells us there can be no wholesome WE without a truly whole ME. A healthy community is a pool of healthy individuals and thus, for the community to thrive, each of us must thrive and bring that into the commonwealth of society. Selfishness is thus presented in a new light, perhaps a relief to the utilitarians and the angst of narcissists.

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One issue that rattled most of the readers under this review is Scot’s submission on goal setting. Who dares to touch that sacred cow? For readers who most likely came into the New Year with a list of achievable and deliverables, it was very unsettling to hear someone dismiss the mighty goal setting with the wave of a wand called system. Scot believes “goals are for losers.” He opined that while goals are short-lived and self-defeating, systems are more like structures that enable us to achieve the desired lifestyle, not just a short-lived result. In the end, the reader has to find what works for him or herself. After all, the introduction was about using bullsht filters. According to Scot, anything will qualify for bullsht if it’s not consistent with personal experience, experience of people you know, expert’s opinion, scientific studies, common sense, and identified patterns. Based on these metrics, the reader has to decide if Scot’s argument is bullsh*t or a truth that can be lived with.

Up next under the gavel was the word we all dread and quite frankly strive not to be associated with. For many who might read this book, it’s probably because we seek the elixir of life that will turn all our faults and failures into a mighty heap of success. The author presents failure as not just an event but a teacher and a resource that should never be wasted. His advice is that you grab failure by the throat and never let go until it coughs out the gems it holds for you. While the book presents an avalanche of nuggets and wisdom to avoid failing, it also presents failure as a resource that can be maximized for greater success. The secret is in continuous learning, documentation and pattern recognition.

At the core of this work is observation, the nimbleness of mind to follow the trail of one’s life in search of patterns and clues. One thing the author demonstrates is that he has not lived life as it came to him but he was present and aware of his choices as he made his decisions. Even though his story is laced with missed turns and wrong moves, what you will not catch in the narrative is regret. Regret generates negative energy, which in turn creates a negative reality. As you jostle for balance and success in life, the author succinctly articulates why you can’t trade anything for positive energy. You have to keep your vibe on! It might be, practically speaking, impossible to avoid some down times in life, but it’s essential to make a habit of climbing out of the chasm every time you fall into it.

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As a colossus of life lessons rooted in very personal stories, the book challenges everything the reader might have held as sacred on a subject as broad as success. For instance, the author opined that a great strategy for success in life is becoming good at something and allowing the thrill of that win propel you to achieve more wins in other areas of life. One of the ways to beat depression, according to Daniel Goleman, the emotional intelligence guru, is winning in something as trivial as a computer game. The excitement of winning releases the feel-good hormones in the brain and inspires you to go for more. “Success”, says Scot Adams, “can be habit-forming.”

It’s said that half of the business of success is in showing up! The courage to plod on in the face of uncertainties with adamant optimism is the hallmark of all greats in history. Half of the time a confident liar will be taken as credible at the expense of a timid honest being. The author posits that confidence is germane for success. It’s not so much about what you have to say but how confidently you communicate that really matters. Remember people can be dead wrong and still stand with their spine erect as a Dane gun. Don’t accept anything as truth based on the persuasiveness of the speaker or communicator. We owe to ourselves to question everything presented to us in the guise of knowledge. Questioning unmasks deceit. Anything that can’t survive the battery of questioning is too weak to be tagged a truth.

The production line was the breakthrough of the 20th century. It brought words like specialization into the holy grail of managerial diction. Versatility was nailed to the cross of inefficiency as productivity and speed marched to the podium led by the “almighty” specialization. Unfortunately, the reality is different for anyone living in 2019. It’s no longer safe to embrace that monolithic approach to life. Thriving in 2019, according to the author, will require you not to have equipment but a toolbox with various tools you can deploy at different instances in life. The more you know, the higher your odds of success. In the author’s words, “every new skill acquired increases your odds of success.” He listed some important skillsets and areas where each reader should strive to achieve some level of mastery. Technically, the idea is that the reader should approach life with a growth mindset and openness to always unlearn, learn and relearn as the case may be.

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Demystifying life is as simple as recognizing patterns. Repetition is part of the genetic code of the universe and all through the book, the author consistently points to this one truth that everything that is has been – all we have to do is find the pattern. Virtuous cycles and vicious cycles are both unending loops of similar patterns. You must understand the pattern to break either. Simply put, there’s a science to everything in life and understanding the science of a thing gives you mastery in any area of life. Once anything is unpacked, it ceases to be a mystery forever. Applying this skill at a personal level will help the reader find his or her own answers without much ado. What’s critical is being able to connect dots and find related patterns in every case.

The author also brought the subject of food and exercise under a new light. It’s important to note that even though the ideas Scot shared are mostly available in the public domain, the manner he went about communicating them is completely unique. He connects healthy eating and exercising to happiness, positive energy, and healthy life. As for every other critical area, it’s up to the reader to embark on a personal inquisition to find his or her own unique answers on the issues as complex and dynamic as food, exercise, and health. One thing the reader can take away is that Scot did a good job in putting these crucial issues in their rightful places as it pertains to personal happiness.

Summarizing this work is a very difficult task because every page is laced with wisdom wrapped in anecdotal analogies. The best one can achieve here is, perhaps, a recollection of the lessons that very readily come to mind. In a manner typical of the author, it’s imperative to state that this is by no means an exhaustive review of the book. One might end up writing another book to accomplish such a feat. It’s important for a new reader to approach the book with some mental grit balanced with a high dose of vulnerability to match the openness of the author. In the end, the environment of the reader plays a huge role in determining what is not necessarily right or wrong, but ultimately, what is applicable. In the words of the author, “you’re the best judge of what works for you, as long as you acquire that wisdom through pattern recognition, trial, and observation.” Let’s take Scot’s advice to strive for simplicity.


February 2019



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