"The Success Formula"
From Scott Adams

Dateline: 26 February 2017

Dilbert comic creator Scott Adams captured my attention in the spring of 2016 when he predicted that Donald Trump would win the Presidential election in November. Adams made his prediction when virtually nobody believed Trump had a chance of winning. Adams's prediction was not based on his own personal or political ideology, but on his observation that Trump was a "master persuader."

It turns out that Scott Adams is also a hypnotist. He has insights into how the human mind works and how persuasion can work on the human mind. He wasn't saying that Trump hypnotized people. He was saying that when he listened to Trump speak, he recognized that the man had very powerful natural persuasive abilities. Adams saw what few other people were able to see.

So, I became a regular reader of Scott Adams's blog, and I ended up buying his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

There was a time in my life when I couldn't walk by a bookstore (back when there was no internet and more actual bookstores dotted the landscape) without stopping and browsing the self-help titles. And I would inevitably buy some sort of book that told how to find success in life. My interest in such books has waned considerably, but Adams's book appealed to me because it was "kind of the story of my life." Biographies and autobiographies have always interested me, and that interest has not waned. 

Scott Adams's book is an interesting read. I wouldn't classify it as a great book because I learned that he and I have distinctly different worldviews. For example, Adams believes in luck and chance. I don't believe in luck and chance at all. Instead, I believe in a sovereign God and His providential orchestrations in each human  life.

Nevertheless, I liked How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big because it's an interesting story of one man's circuitous journey from middle class obscurity in a small rural town in New York to tremendous success as a famous cartoonist. 

As I read the book, I saw similarities between Scott Adams and myself. He is only a year older than me and his upbringing was similar. His desire to find success with a succession of entrepreneurial ideas parallels my early desires. And the succession of failed entrepreneurial ideas parallels my own.

Eventually, Adams hit on an entrepreneurial idea (the Dilbert comic strip) that propelled him to the success he dreamed of.  My own measure of success is far more humble (it started with a book about how to build a chicken plucker). I don't have an abundance of money, but I have a home-based business that pays the bills, and that has allowed me to break free from wage slavery. 

Success is a subjective word. It means different things to different people. I will have to work at my home business for the rest of my life to make ends meet, but I've never defined success as not having to work. Success for me, from my middle teen years, meant self-employment at a rural, home-based business. And, amazingly, the mail-order business appealed to me way back then.

All of which leads me to something in Scott Adams's book that really resonated with me. He calls it The Success Formula. I can relate to it in my own life experience, and I think it is a keen observation that Adams makes. Here it is, in Scott Adams's words...

When I speak to young people on the topic of success, as I often do, I tell them there's a formula for it. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
Notice I didn't say anything about the level of proficiency you need to achieve for each skill. I didn't mention anything about excellence or being world-class. The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good—not extraordinary—at more than one skill.
Successwise, you're better off being good at two complimentary skills than being excellent at one. I'm ignoring the outlier possibility that you might be one of the best performers int he world at some skill or another. That can obviously be valuable too. But realistically, you wouldn't be reading this book if you could throw a baseball a hundred miles per hour or compose hit songs in your head.

Adams condenses this "success formula" into its simplest form as follows: Good + Good > Excellent. Adams also says that, "Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success."

He then goes on to elaborate on this formula, and you can see how it worked in his life journey. Adams pursued other skills and career opportunities before he created Dilbert, and those previous skills (none of which he was excellent at) contributed to his eventual success. His Dilbert comic is but one example— it reflects good, but not excellent, artistic talent.

This success principle is so incredibly appropriate to my own life journey. I am a good carpenter and woodworker, having spent decades working as such, but I'm not necessarily excellent at the craft. I'm a good writer, but certainly not world-class excellent. I have good basic drawing abilities, but not excellent. The books I self-publish are built on my good-enough skills as a woodworker, writer, and artist, but they are not excellent in appearance (they do, however, deliver how-to information clearly). My web sites on the internet are just-good (not excellent) examples created within free blog formats. My YouTube movies are far from excellent, but they are good enough to serve their purpose.

And so it is that, for me, Good + Good + Good + Good + Good + Good = A measure of entrepreneurial success that brings me a lot of personal satisfaction. 

One final thought on this.....

There is an old saying that is common to farmers and homesteaders. Such people will often say that they are a Jack of all trades, but master of none.  

That saying is a traditional "recipe" for success as a farmer or homesteader. Pursuing more knowledge and developing more skills has proven itself, time and time again, down through the ages to be a wise and beneficial lifetime pursuit. 

So, it turns out that Scott Adams's "success formula" is really just an old agrarian principle, brought into the modern economy.


  1. And yet Herrick, this is scarcely the piper's tune that is played today. The value, we are told, is in being a specialist: being completely good at one thing and playing only to that one strength. I have never really believed it myself, being a generalist in my thinking as you are in yours. The problem being, of course, when that thing which is your specialty withers away.

    Not having read the book, I think one thing Adams is excellent at is observation of human interactions, especially in the corporate world. Dilbert is funny because it is (sadly) all too true.

  2. I hope this finds you and yours doing well. May we display your linked header on our new site directory, SiteHoundSniffs.com? As it is now, the site title (linked back to its home page) is listed, and we think displaying the header will attract more attention.

    If you are concerned about us being up to no good, please do a Google search for SiteHoundSniffs (with or without the .com). The results should prove that this is meant to be a very good thing.

    Specifically, what we are wanting to do is take a screenshot of your header and display it (linked back to the homepage) in place of the text-link. If you will visit SiteHoundSniffs.com, it should be easy to see how having a displayed header makes an individual site more attractive to visitors and SiteHoundSniffs look better. You do not have to do a thing but grant permission. There is absolutely no charge, nor will there ever be.

  3. I prefer Jack of all trades, master of some...

  4. Wanted to know if you allow your blog readers to pass along suggestions you might like to read? Found your blog via survivalblog entry on boom hypothesis and have had you in my bookmarks since.

  5. I like this Robert Heinlein quote:

    "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly.

    Specialization is for insects."