I've read 289 books in the past four years. Some were awful. Others were incredible. But I took notes on all of them.
I've never known what to do with these notes. Then I got an idea: I'll dump some of the highlights into a weekly article.
How to Fail at Everything And Still Win Big is a book about learning from mistakes. It's written by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, who I always knew was clever but didn't realize is also rather smart until I read this book. It's incredibly well written and I learned a lot from it. Here are six things.
1. Systems are better than goals.
In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.
2. You see this logic among most successful people.
Warren Buffett's system for investing involves buying undervalued companies and holding them forever, or at least until something major changes. That system (which I have grossly oversimplified) has been a winner for decades. Compare that with individual investors who buy a stock because they expect it to go up 20 percent in the coming year; that's a goal, not a system. And not surprisingly, individual investors generally experience worse returns than the market average.
3. If you want to be happier, control your time.
The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. I'm contrasting that with the more common situation, in which you might be able to do all the things you want, but you can't often do them when you want. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.
4. Find what you can stand doing all day. Make that your career.
My observation is that some people are born with a natural impulse to practice things and some people find mindless repetition without immediate reward to be a form of torture. Whichever camp you're in, it probably won't change. It's naive to expect the average person to embrace endless practice in pursuit of long-term success. It makes more sense to craft a life plan for yourself that embraces your natural inclinations, assuming you're not a cannibal. Most natural inclinations have some sort of economic value if you channel them right.
5. Simplicity is undervalued.
Simple systems are probably the best way to achieve success. Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value. Successful people and successful businesses have the luxury of being able to optimize toward perfection over time. Start-ups often do better by slapping together something that is 80 percent good and seeing how the public responds. There's time to improve things later if the market cares about the product.
6. Brevity is undervalued, too.
When writing a résumé, a handy trick you'll learn from experts is to ask yourself if there are any words in your first draft that you would be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each. Here's the simple formula: Each Unnecessary Word = $100.When you apply the formula to your résumé, you surprise yourself by how well the formula helps you prune your writing to its most essential form. It doesn't matter that the hundred-dollar figure is arbitrary and that some words you remove are more valuable than others. What matters is that the formula steers your behavior in the right direction. As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy. The hundred dollars in this case is not only inaccurate; it's entirely imaginary. And it still works.
Go buy the book here. It's great.
- What I learned from Antifragile
- What I learned from Thinking Fast and Slow
- What I learned from Risk Savvy
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Contact Morgan Housel at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.