Cartoonist Scott Adams on Why Passion is Often Overrated
Read an excerpt from Scott Adam's new book on the MonsterWorking blog.
By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Monster Resource Center
Scott Adams, creator of the iconic cartoon series Dilbert, knows a thing or two about success – and just as much or more about failure. Luckily for us, he shares it all in his new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Portfolio, 2013.)
Adams is candid about his failed corporate career, flat-lined inventions and investments — and how he conquered a variety of health problems. His book is a study of how failure can lead to success by cultivating the right skills along the way.
An entrepreneur at heart, Adams remains humble, attributing his good fortune to luck as much as anything else. In this Monster interview, he reveals his latest business venture, along with insights about work, life and health, and successfully balancing them all.
Monster: Your book is a personal exploration of your own career development and life philosophy. What’s been the feedback?
Adams: The early reviews have been terrific. This is my most personal book, and the first time I have written a book designed to help readers navigate life. So the great feedback is extra rewarding in this case.
Monster: You prefer to use “systems” (which provide immediate feedback) instead of “goals.” Does that philosophy run counter to how most companies track progress?
Adams: Most companies and most individuals are goal-oriented. I think our minds are wired to make that the default strategy. You imagine what you want and then you chase after it. The problem with chasing a specific goal is that the odds of obtaining it are probably low compared to the system approach that prepares you for a wider variety of opportunities.
For example, instead of having a goal of getting your boss’s job someday, it makes more sense to have a system of continuously learning new and complementary skills. That way you’re prepared for any number of jobs and you don’t have to wait for your boss to die.
Monster: You recommend that people “pay” themselves $100 to remove each unnecessary word when writing a resume. Do you use that rule when writing Dilbert?
Adams: The idea is that you shouldn’t include unnecessary words in your writing. The imaginary $100 payment for each word your remove is a mental trick that helps you get there. But if you think in that way long enough, it becomes second nature.
Monster: What’s the most difficult part of creating a great cartoon — the words, the images — or getting them to work together?
Adams: The hard part is picking a topic that hasn’t already been worn out. Once I have a fresh topic, the writing and the art happen easily on most days. The benefit of being a one-person operation is that my writing style and my drawing style work well together because they spring from the same set of preferences.
Monster: Employers are looking to hire passionate employees. Yet you say that passion is overrated (you actually use a more descriptive word.) Should both parties rethink the concept?
Adams: Successful people like to say their secret to success is passion. In my experience, success requires energy, a good strategy, hard work, and a lot of luck. If your plan starts to make you rich, you’ll probably be passionate about it. But passion generally follows success; it doesn’t cause it. I think successful people say passion is the key to success because almost any other answer sounds arrogant.
I know a guy who got rich selling doorknobs. Was he passionate about doorknobs? Probably not. He was just a smart guy with a good plan and enough energy to make it happen. And I assume there was some luck along the way. No passion required.
Monster: You talk a lot about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, yet many people work long work hours with long commutes that lead to stressful eating and little exercise. What’s the solution?
Adams: For starters, recognize that your health is your primary economic asset. That understanding makes it easier to insert exercise and healthy eating into your schedule.
Keep in mind that healthy people are more productive. And if being fit makes you more attractive, that has an economic value too. If you work a bit less so you can exercise a bit more, you probably come out ahead in the long run.
It also helps to have a long term strategy of someday enjoying a more flexible schedule. That might mean someday working for yourself, or it might mean having a boss who cares more about your productivity than your attendance.
Monster: You last worked in the corporate world in 1995. How do you stay current with work trends?
Adams: I get a lot of suggestions by email. And as you might imagine, everyone I meet has a work story that they think would make a good comic. They are often right.
I’ve also been working on an Internet start-up for the past two years, so I’ve been living and breathing that life. (It’s called CalendarTree.com and will be available in beta when you read this.)
Monster: Has the workplace changed much over the past few decades?
Adams: Technology always changes, and management fads change, but the way humans act in a hierarchy almost never changes.
Monster: What about management skills. Has the dynamic between managers and employees changed significantly?
Adams: The balance of power shifts with the economic climate. In boom times, such as the dotcom era, good employees are in high demand, and managers have to be generous to attract and keep them. In periods of high unemployment, management has all the power.
Monster: You describe your career in corporate life as a failure — and yet you were promoted and moved up the ladder. Were you living example of what would later become The Dilbert Principle?
Adams: My career got stalled at the first level of management in my banking career. And I never managed people during my phone company career that followed. My pay went up with each promotion but I never got to a full Dilbert Principle level of management incompetence.
Monster: Is there any plan to write a follow up to your 1997 book, The Dilbert Principle?
Adams: After The Dilbert Principle came out, everyone seemed to ask me for my suggestions to fix all the problems that I mocked. I resisted that urge for years because I didn’t want to become the sort of management guru I mocked. With the new book, my focus is on motivating individuals and not management, so it fits me better.
Monster: What would it take to create a more productive office space – and if that happened, would you be out of a job?
Adams: Productivity always improves over time as companies experiment and they observe best practices in the industry. And of course technology always marches forward. I don’t see productivity as being much of a problem.
The bigger problem is when management focuses on productivity to the point of evil. As long as that keeps happening, I’ll have plenty of material and plenty of people who want to read it.
Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, one of the most popular and widely distributed comic strips of the past quarter century. He has been a full-time cartoonist since 1995, after sixteen years as a technology worker for companies like Crocker National Bank and Pacific Bell. His many bestsellers include The Dilbert Principle and Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook. His latest book is HOW TO FAIL AT ALMOST EVERYTHING AND STILL WIN BIG: Kind of the Story of My Life. He lives outside San Francisco.
Images used with permission. Copyright Scott Adams, 2013.
Read an excerpt from Scott Adam's new book on the MonsterWorking blog.