Posts Tagged ‘success’

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Sunday, March 14th, 2021 | Books

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life is a non-fiction book by Scott Adams. Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic and in this book, he puts forward his wisdom on how he has been successful. It’s a sort of a cross between a biography, self-help book and fun read.

Adams emphasises systems over goals. He suggests goals are a bad idea because you are always failing to reach one, or it is accomplished and done. For example, if you want to lose weight, you could set a goal that you are not achieving, or you could exercise every day. The latter is a system: you follow the system and the goal happens anyway at some point.

He suggests failure is good as you always learn something. I suspect most of us would agree with that. He debates simplicity vs optimisation. For example, should you try to squeeze in a supermarket trip on the way to meet a friend? Probably, if you can remain cool if you get delayed. Should you do the same thing before a job interview? Probably not.

He likes talent and suggests that if you are normally risk-averse, but willing to take risks in one area, that is probably an indicator you have some natural talent. The best way to utilise talent is not to focus solely on the thing but to build a talent stack: complementary skills that produce a uniquely good result.

If you are launching a new product, try to find one where the market is strong from day one, even if your product is not. Mobile phones, laptops and fax machines were all terrible to start with but they sold from day one and got better.

Adams suggests there are some all-round skills that are valuable in life regardless of what you do. These include public speaking, psychology, business writing, accounting, design, conversation, persuasion, technology and vocal technique.

He also offers four keys to success: lack of fear of embarrassment, education, exercise and treating success as a learnable skill. In the latter case, this means finding out what skills need to succeed in your chosen endeavour and going out and getting them.


Thursday, May 4th, 2017 | Books

In Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking Shane Show presents his ideas for her you can shortcut your way to success by working smarter, not harder.

He starts by taking about the video game Super Mario. How did his friend turn the record time for completing the game from 30 minutes to 6? He used the tubes that the game designers put in for easier testing. Whether or not this is relevant, I’m not sure. But who doesn’t love Super Mario?

Lateral thinking plays a part. For example, Great Ormond Street wanted to reduce the number of children who were dying (not that it was loads, but ideally you want it to be none). So they brought in the Ferrari Formula One pit crew. They learnt how Ferrari work seamlessly as a team and took lessons from it.

Snow argues that being the prime mover is not that important. According to his figures, only 11% first movers stay ahead in the long term. This is because fast followers can copy what has come before and are not held back by the initial technical problems.

He also makes a case for pattern spotting. The best surfers spend a long time learning to spot the perfect wave so that when it comes, they know which one to hit. Similarly, as an entrepreneur, you need to be able to spot the best opportunities so that you can ride the wave of success without wasting time on those that will take you nowhere.

Mentoring is also important. Find someone who has the success you want, and get their advice.

It’s an interesting read, but I’m not sure I took a huge amount away from it. I normally have a lot of notes at the end of a book, and I didn’t have a huge amount from Smartcuts. But maybe I just need to re-read it to take it all in.

Ego Is the Enemy

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 | Books

Ego Is the Enemy is a book by Ryan Holiday. It made for rather uncomfortable reading for me, which means it was important. I wish I had read this book for ten years ago.

Holiday discusses the role that ego has played in important historical figures, the people around him, and in his personal life. The effect is almost always negative. Ego is a destructive force and one of the biggest factors in whether you are successful in your life is whether you can keep it under your control or not.

Even those who seem to use ego, are ultimately laid low by it. Steve Jobs, who many regard as an egomaniac, really did his best work when not driven by his ego. His ego led to him being fired by Apple the first time around. It was only when he put it aside and started working again from the ground up that he built something amazing.

He holds Howard Hughes up as the ultimate cautionary tale of ego getting the better of you. We do not see most of the people who fail because they disappear without a trace. However, Hughes inherited so much money that he could just keep going in his folly. He built the Spruce Goose, it flew once, and then he stored it in a warehouse at a cost of $1,000,000 per year. For 15 years. A period that only ended with Hughes’s death.

You can be successful and have an out-of-control ego. But this is the exception. Take Kayne West for example. He is one of the greatest rappers of all time. But, after all of that, he is in huge personal debt because he keeps trying to launch a fashion label; something he knows nothing about.

Contrast this to those who shun the limelight (as much as you can when you are successful). Angela Merkel in her third term as the Chancellor of Germany. Bill Belichick, who has taken the Patriots to the Super Bowl six times, and won four of them.

Success is built upon:

  • Staying humble
  • Getting out of your own head, and not wasting time thinking how great you are
  • Being willing to put in the work
  • Always learning, and knowing that there is more to learn

It also gave me a new favourite quote, from John Archibald Wheeler.

As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

When I look back at my own life, ego has been a destructive force. Looking back, I can see plenty of incidents, especially in my charity work, that were clearly driven by ego. More often than not, these situations played out badly for me.

It also matches up with what Dacher Keltner writes in The Power Paradox. When are are successful, the success quickly rises to our heads. We become the authors of our down downfall, because are unable to keep our ego in check.

This book is an essential read and one that I will be coming back to again and again.

Talent is Overrated

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Books

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else is a book by Geoff Colvin.

I read it after I was recommended it by a friend. He is a member of my Toastmasters club and is a lovely and funny guy. But several of his talks have irked the sceptic in me. In one unlucky incident, for example, he gave a talk on neuro-linguistic programming, a field that has now been completed debunked. Unfortunately for him, I was his formal evaluator that way, and was quite outspoken in my evaluation speech!

In another speech he spoke about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which again is probably nonsense. I challenged him on it and he recommended I read “Talent is Overrated”. So, after that extended backstory, here I am having read it with my usual attempt to keep an open, yet appropriately-sceptical mind.

The central theme of the book is that you do not need “talent” to be good at something, you just need lots of time. It challenges the idea that there is a correlation between IQ and success. Research does not support these suggestions.

However, it does make an important point about the quality of practice. It says it is very important, and it is. One of the biggest criticism’s about Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is that he largely ignores quality of practice whereas Colvin stresses it is the most important thing.

The second half of the book turns into a management handbook for motivating your staff. This makes a good point that staff are your most valuable asset. However, some of it felt a little confused. For example it claims you need to have a long-term plan and talks about Panasonic’s 500 year plan. Then it talks about having to reinvent your business model every 3-4 years. How do we reconcile long term plans with the increasingly uncertain future?

The book finishes off by going back to the original topic of why are highly successful people so successful. It discusses age-related degrading of talents and suggests that while we do degrade as we get older, if we continue to push our skills they tend not to degrade much at all (but the rest of our bodies will). I’m not sure on the research on this, though I might just choose to believe it because it sounds pleasing. Ah the bliss of ignorance.

It also puts forward the idea that if you want to be truly amazing at something you need to start really young. This is probably a controversial point, that is probably true. Thus entirely justifying living out your dreams through your kids…

Talent is overrated


Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 | Books

I expressed some of my concerns about Malcolm Gladwell’s writing in my review of The Tipping Point. This included his analysis of the 10,000 hours rule (which is almost certainly wrong) which features in this book. It was still an interesting read however.

Outliers: The Story of Success looks both at some of the most successful people, but also how we think of success. He begins by talking about the Matthew effect. This is where sports have cut off date, say 1 January, and so kids born in January are competing against kids almost a year younger than them (kids born in December). The result is that kids in January look better, thus are put in a higher ability stream, get extra coaching and thus become world-class athletes.

According to the research Gladwell points to, this has a huge effect. Almost all sports stars are born in the first three months and almost none after September. When there is ability setting in school, September births outperform August births by a big margin too.

He then goes on to talk about the 10,000 hours rule, and finally goes on to talk about success is a result of opportunity. Take Bill Gates for example. At 13 years old, his high school got access to a computer system and so by the time he got to founding Microsoft in 1975 he had done more programming than basically anyone else in the world at his age.

This is where the book makes a great point. Gladwell uses the term opportunity, which is a combination of luck and privilege. Bill Gates worked incredibly hard, but he also had an opportunity that almost nobody else in the world had in that he spent his childhood, from 1968-1975, programming.

He is an excellent storyteller. I had the same kind of epiphany that I had when reading Michael Lewis’s Boomerang. They are both such good storytellers that they a) write excellent books and b) make us less critical because of it.

In summary, Outliers is a very engaging book, but that does not make it true. Gladwell is known for over-simplifying problems and he does it equally frequently in this book. If the message you take away is that success is more a product of opportunity than being a meritocracy of hard-work though, the book has probably been of some benefit.

As a final footnote, I had the audiobook edition and one of the things I found quite annoying was what happens with quotes. Gladwell reads it himself and goes into quotes without changing his voice or indicating it. So he will read something out and then say something like “says John Smith” and then you have to try and backtrack to where the quote starts from.