How Ordinary Skills Led to an Extraordinary Life for 'Dilbert' Creator
Scott Adams describes himself as a man with average skills who failed at almost everything. Yet, he has a bestselling book and created one of the most popular comics of all time. Here's how he did it.
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While there is a continuous stream of articles toting the amazing qualities of entrepreneurs, the secret traits of successful people and tricks for making it to the top, Scott Adams, the creator of award-winning comic series Dilbert, thinks it's hogwash.
Adams, you see, believes that the accumulation and rare combination of average skills, along with habit development, can lead to success. "If you look at my current career it's a combination of fairly mediocre talents," he says. "I'm not a good artist, compared to real artists. I've never taken a writing class, except for a two-day business writing class. I've got fairly average business talents. I'm not even the funniest person in the room, but I'm one of the few people who does all of those things."
The ability to combine these skills has led Adams on a long road of ups and downs. Dilbert is one of the most successful comics of all time, appearing in 2,000 newspaper worldwide and receiving numerous accolades. Adams draws crowds around the country at speaking events, as well as garnering an extensive following with his blog. His new book, How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big (Penguin, 2013), debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. And yet, as the name of his book suggests, his life has been full of flops: failed restaurants, job interviews, corporate careers and even a line of burritos called the "Dilberito."
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"My process -- beginning in college -- was that I would try a series of high risk, unlikely projects or ventures," says Adams. "Most of them wouldn't work, but I would choose them based on if they would teach me something useful." He says this method, over focusing on just one specific goal, allowed him to remain open to new opportunities and gave him a greater probability for success.
Adams has also adopted "systems," or regular habits that increase his chances of happiness or success. Everything from his diet to career and exercise routine are fair game, with many routines detailed in How to Fail.
In fact, the book itself grew out of a system. When Adams started blogging in 2008, his then-wife protested he was spending half of his time on a project that barely added any income. However, Adams remained resolute. "I didn't know where it would lead, but I knew if I kept publicly practicing, something good would grow out of that," says Adams.
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Ultimately, the most overarching system in Adams's life has been the layering on these skills as time goes on. Blogging allowed Adams to understand what topics resonated with people. Business-writing classes helped Adams develop a clear and authoritative voice. A two-day public speaking course gave Adams the skills he regularly uses at events.
Adams is firm in the fact that he does not attempt to offer readers advice in his book. Instead, he hopes to offer a model for success -- an instance of someone who has mostly failed, but somehow made it -- in the hopes that people will read and come up with their own conclusions and systems for success accomplishments.
Few can argue that Adams, despite his failures, is anything but successful. And, whether How to Fail is advice or not, there is plenty an entrepreneur can learn from him.