How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

How to Fail

“Don’t let reality control your imagination. Let your imagination be the user interface to steer your reality.” – Scott Adams.

How to Fail at Almost Everything is a quirky, funny, irreverent, and often inspiring “sort of autobiography” from the creator of Dilbert, that quirky, funny, irreverent, and often inspiring comic strip that lays out the truth of working in the trenches cubicles of corporate America.

This is not another collection of Dilbert cartoons or Dilbert philosophy.  It’s more of a Dilbert origin story.  We know we’re in for a different kind of kind of how-to-book when Adams begins by advising us to make sure our bullshit detectors are working before we take advice from a cartoonist.

He dismantles many self-help cliches in order to clear the way for fresh perspectives.  “Goals are for losers,” he says, and recommends strategy instead.  “I will finish my first novel,” is a goal. “I will write for an hour a day,” is a strategy.  Every day we don’t attain a goal is slightly depressing, he says, and soon after we reach it, the “what next?” question arises.  A strategy, on the other hand, brings a daily sense of satisfaction as we move in the right direction.

“I tried a lot of different ventures, stayed optimistic, put in the energy, prepared myself by learning as much as I could, and stayed in the game long enough for luck to find me…with Dilbert it did.” – Scott Adams

Adams gives a chronology of his many failed careers and entrepreneurial ventures. Shining through the story is a positive attitude that allowed him to find key lessons and life experience in every failure.  His optimism is gold, and he spends a lot of time writing of health, especially, diet and exercise, although he cautions that there is a “non-zero chance” that health advice from a cartoonist could be fatal.

“I’m here to tell you that the primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet and exercise.”  The “big five” benefit mood, which builds personal energy, which is the driver of aspiration and effort.

Scott Adams shares his ideas at IBM Connect 2014.  Photo by Greyhawk68, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Scott Adams shares his ideas at IBM Connect 2014. Photo by Greyhawk68, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Adams packs an abundance of topics into his book. Not every one resonated, and several dragged for me, but much of my copy is highlighted and underlined, and I’ve reread several chapters already.  If you like Dilbert, you will value this story of the life twists and turns of his creator, and you will benefit from the lessons he learned along the way.

Wild Eating

animal house food fight

This post isn’t really about food fights in school cafeterias – some of us have matured (a bit) since those days.  Actually, the photo of John Belushi was a classic bait-and-switch, a ploy to draw you into a post about foods that are good for us.

At the end of November, I caught an interview on NPR’s Science Friday with Jo Robinson, an investigative journalist who specializes in science and health.  She discussed the way humans, since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, have bred the nutrition out of plants, and what the science of micro-nutrition has recently learned about optimizing our food choices.

eating on the wild side

The interview was a good introduction to Robinson’s bestseller, Eating on the Wild Side, and she led off with a discussion of corn.

Wild corn came with tough husks and only a few kernels per ear. It didn’t taste very good, but it was healthy, with 20% protein and only 2% sugar.  In contrast, modern corn has 2%-4% protein and sugar as high as 40%.  Still better than Ding Dongs, but headed in that direction.

At the core of this research are phytonutrients, molecular level nutrients that are natural wonder drugs.  Lab work over the last 15-20 years reveals that some phytonutriets increase resistance to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.  Unfortunately, they tend to make foods bitter, a taste we would rather avoid.

Taste hasn’t been the only factor in denaturing our food.  Carrots were red and purple until 400 years ago, when a group of Dutch growers, paying political homage to the House of Orange, used mutant yellow carrots to create the orange variety we know today.  Unfortunately, orange carrots have 16 times fewer antioxidants than red and purple varieties.

There’s good news on the carrot front; Robinson says we can find the older varieties in seed catalogs, and they actually taste better.  During the rest of the interview, she presented ways to maximize nutrition and the number of beneficial phytonutrients we eat.  Her suggestions included:

  • Eat the skins.  The skin of carrots of any variety contains half the nutritional value, so wash them but don’t peel them and throw the skins away.  Don’t skin potatoes before mashing them.
Blue Jade corn

Blue Jade corn

  • When choosing fruits and vegetables, a rule of thumb is the healthiest colors are red, blue, black, and purple.  There are exceptions, however, like artichokes, which Robinson says are among the best veggie choices.

  • Garlic really is a “wonder drug,” but it’s value depends on two substances combining after the cloves are cut or crushed, and one of these can be damaged if heated too soon.  The solution is to crush garlic then set it aside for 1o minutes before sautéing.

  • In one study three to four servings a week from the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens, kale, and others) reduced the risk of prostate cancer in men by up to 60%.

  • Daily servings of Welches grape juice, made from Concord grapes, appears to improve the memory of seniors with early signs of Alzheimer’s.

  • The nutritional value of many fruits and veggies increases with cooking.  This includes berries, which makes berry pies and cobblers among the healthiest deserts.

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Once, when I was younger, I lived as a strict vegetarian for two years.  At the time I was learning to meditate and tried out advice (which proved to be true) that a moderate diet and occasional fasting helps concentration.  My diet is different now, but I’m equally attentive to what I eat; my motive is overall health.

Wherever one stands on the issue of health care, no one can argue that the best way to stay healthy is not to get sick.  Next to quitting smoking and exercise, diet is a major behavioral variable we can tilt in our favor.  The effort is enjoyable to, in a mildly subversive way, like buying nothing on Black Friday.  In an era when the next big corporate move in fruit is patenting GMO apples that don’t turn brown, I find heirloom veggies like blue corn and purple carrots to be especially attractive.

Take a look at Jo Robinson’s website, eatwild.com; you’ll find it informative and inspiration.

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PS:  Based on several comments, I’m adding links to possible sources of interesting seeds.

burpee.com:  For a long time, the seed catalog of choice.  Now online with info tailored to your climate zone.  I poked around enough to see that they have purple carrot seeds.

Heirloom Seed Companies: I found this link on Facebook. Haven’t checked it out yet, but it looks interesting.

More on Robot Surgery

In a strange synchronicity after my robot post yesterday, our Sunday paper business section carried an article called “Robot surgery faces lawsuits.”

The source for the piece is listed as Bloomberg News, and this appears to be original story, posted on their website March 5.  No cute robot pictures this time, and no comments from me except to suggest everyone read this: Robosurgery Suits Detail Injuries as Death Reports Rise