Lessons in Systems Thinking from the Creator of Dilbert

“Losers have goals. Winners have systems.”

-Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert

Scott Adams, in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, compares and contrasts systems thinking with the goal oriented approach to success. Scott credits his systems thinking approach for the success he’s realized today. To compare and contrast systems vs. goals, Adam’s used the following definitions:

System: Something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run (Source)

Goal: A specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future (Source)

Scott describes goal oriented people as living in a perpetual state of failure. In the event they achieve their goal, after a brief celebration goal oriented people will realize they have lost the thing that gave them purpose. In contrast, systems people are successful every time they execute their system. An example of Scott’s system at work is his blogging efforts which as Scott puts it “the blogging seemed to double my workload while promising a 5% higher income that didn’t make a real difference” (Source). Scott’s blogging provided him the opportunity to hone is writing and experiment with different voices and eventually led to guest articles in the Wall Street Journal and dozens of business opportunities (Source).

Scott shares a more humors example of systems oriented success with Tim Ferriss in a podcast interview. Scott contrasts his approach to seeking love in high school which showering a select co-ed with affection and admiration (goal oriented approach) while Scott’s friend flittered and dated as many co-eds as possible acquiring valuable social skills along the way (systems approach).  Though humors, this example clearly illustrates the point Scott is attempting to make that a system executed regularly will lead to “success” though the end result may be difficult to impossible to visualize initially.

Other examples of Scott’s systems approach to happiness:

Diversification as a tool for Stress Management: Scott applies to the same logic as why one should diversify their portfolio (i.e. not keeping all eggs in one basket). Scott describes Dilbert’s success as a form of diversifying the number of bosses he has (1,000’s of newspapers) preventing any fear of losing his “job”.

Career Advice: Become very good at two or more things and combine those skills to create something that is both rare and valuable. In Scott’s case he combined his artistic ability (above average) with his wit and humor (also above average) to create Dilbert.


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