A few months back my friend RamP recommended Scott Adams’ “How to fail at almost everything and still win big”. At that time, I was struggling to convey the importance of “fail fast, fail often” principle to the students in my course on innovation at IIMB. The book helped me in showcasing to students how successful people like Scott Adams have a long list of failures and they are not shy of presenting it. But the book doesn’t stop at flaunting failures; it goes deeper than that. It presents some of the key challenges we face in our creative journey and suggests some practical approaches in tackling them. And it does so in a witty style. Here are my 3 takeaways from the book:
Fail often in order to succeed: “You want to be steeped to your eyebrow in failure,” Scott says, “It’s a good place to be because failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.” That’s quite an insight. In chapter 4 titled “Some of my many failures in summary form”, Scott presents 22 failures and the lessons he learned from them. Chapter 5 is dedicated to “My absolutely favorite spectacular failure”. I would buy this book just for these two chapters. When I present my failure resume in the class, students comment that my failures weren’t that bad. When I tell them the Nassim Taleb quote, “Learn to fail with comfort, pleasure, and pride,” they feel if you are failing comfortably that means you are not trying hard. Perhaps it is not easy to understand that for an idea with big upside, the cost and downside of experimentation doesn’t have to be high. In my failure to communicate this point lies an opportunity for me to improve my presentation in the future.
Goals are for losers, system for winners: “If your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal – if you reach it at all – feeling as if you were short of your goal,” Scott adds, “Goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.” He suggests that one should treat the system as primary rather than the goal. How is system different from goal? He says that running a marathon is a goal while exercising daily is a system. If you do something every day, Scott calls it a system and if you are waiting to achieve it someday in future, it is a goal. My take is that both have a place but the question is where do you place emphasis? Scott suggests that system should be primary and I feel the same.
Maximize personal energy: How does Scott approach the problem of multiple priorities? He says he focuses on only one metric – “my energy”. Scott says, “The main reason I blog is because it energizes me. I don’t need another reason.” In fact, Scott goes on step further. His Dilbert comic creating process is divided into two stages to maximize the energy-generating ideas and drawing the final art. He has observed that his creative energy is at its best during morning time. So he tries to get new Dilbert ideas at that time. And he draws the final art in the afternoon which is less creative. Shopping drains his energy, so he minimizes shopping. Everyone is different and hence one should pay attention to things that give and drain energy.
I enjoyed the book and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to preserve or develop the creative part within oneself. I find all the three suggestions valuable, keeping a failure resume, focusing on the system rather than goals and paying attention to the sources of energy. Hope you get to experiment with them.
image source: amazon.in
Nassim Taleb quote is from his interview by Alleb Webb in McKinsey Quarterly, December 2008 issue.