We all like Dilbert.
Well, some of us like Dilbert.
Those of us who have worked in the software industry post copies of Dilbert cartoons near our desks because they are so much on target about the high-tech workplace and some of the people in it. So of course I had to read How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams, Dilbert’s creator. But unfortunately the book is ultimately disappointing. My issue is with Adams’s values, which are excessively focused on making money. There’s too much about his being paid thousands of dollars for delivering a single speech — things like that. Given the community in which I teach, I shouldn’t be surprised by such values (many of my students share them), but they seem un-Dilbert-like. And Adams seems to forget the correlation doesn’t imply causation: just because he did something doesn’t mean that that something made him rich.
There are, however, several good points in this book. As the title suggests, it pushes the (unoriginal) idea that you can fail and fail and fail and still be successful in the end. This, of course, is good advice for everyone, especially students, even if it’s unoriginal. What might actually be original is the distinction Adams makes between goals and systems. I’ve long been uneasy about goals, as they tend to narrow one’s focus and often lead to disappointment. Adams convincingly argues that one should think about systems rather than goals. What’s less convincing is his emphasis on affirmations, which he believes to be effective; they may well be for him, as his belief comes from his personal experience, but he didn’t convince me. The book also has too much about diet and coffee, and it contains odd views on politics and religion. Finally, as a reader of Dilbert, I found far too little humor in the book. So, as I said, it’s disappointing.