Dilbert Creator’s Advice for 2015

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big - The Kind of Story of My Life by Dlibert creator Scott Adams

Just in time for the new year, I discovered Scott Adams’ funny new book about business. Tuesday his publisher just released its new paperback edition, and its counter-intuitive advice has already prompted a fascinating argument with the richest man in the world. But fortunately, the rest of us can also enjoy the book’s Kindle edition for just $7.99.

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Scott Adams created the Dilbert comic strip, and last week he used it to mock Warren Buffett’s advice about succeeding by finding a job that you’re passionate about. “Woo-hoo! I forwarded an e-mail!” jokes Dilbert’s sarcastic receptionist, trying to fake enough passion to improve her career. “I have to fake the passion because everything I do in this job is mindless and boring…”

But Dilbert’s creator told one newspaper that there actually is a serious message behind that comic strip — that passion can just as easily be formula for failure. A banker even told him once years ago that he’d never lend you money if you’re passionate. “You’re in business for the wrong reasons, and if things start turning unhappy, you’re going to bail!” Adams said — or even worse, making irrational “passionate” decisions. The Omaha World-Herald cites Adams as saying that whether you’re starting a new business or tackling a new job, “the last thing you want to do is become passionate.

“It’s almost the opposite of what you want to do…”

It’s a mind-blowing challenge to conventional wisdom — and it’s one of many in his new book. Instead of an inspiring ode to hard work, Adams titled his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.” Amazon’s description calls it a “funny yet serious” book that’s full of Adams own personal stories, saying he shares “the strategies he has used to invite failure in, embrace it, then pick its pocket.” Behind the comic strip is a very smart man who’s come up with his own thoughtful advice.

  • Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners.
  • A combination of mediocre skills can make you surprisingly valuable.
  • You can manage your odds in a way that makes you look lucky to others.

Of course, after all this Warren Buffett still belives in the power of passion — even after hearing about this new critique from the creator of Dilbert. “Having passion for something is far from an automatic guarantee of success, but I think it helps,” he tells the Omaha World-Herald. Buffett is from Omaha, and he told the same newspaper that when he was just 12 years old, he’d already started reading every book in Omaha’s public library about how to succeed in business. And Buffett also offers the newspaper another compelling example. “It’s hard to imagine very many athletes succeeding without a passion for their sport, though obviously many who are equally passionate fall on their face (count me among those).”

I have to admit that the back-and-forth got me to thinking. But finally I concluded that it’s okay to fail if you’re failing passionately (because, since most startups fail, why not enjoy the ride?) And ultimately Warren Buffett gives the newspaper a similar response. “I tell the college students who visit Omaha to try to find the job that they’d take if they didn’t need a job… They may not enjoy wild success but they will certainly enjoy life more than if they go to a job they find uninteresting.

“And, on balance, I believe they will enjoy more success.”

Buffett is actually a fan of Dilbert– and Scott Adams says the feeling is mutual — and it was nice to see both men speaking sincerely on the topic of passion. But I have to declare Warren Buffett the winner of this argument, because of the way he cleverly co-opts Scott Adams’ own example. “Despite what Mr. Adams says, I retain a slight suspicion that he has a passion for delivering important messages in a highly entertaining manner.

And I’d be surprised if this passion didn’t predate his success.”

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