October 15, 2013

Notes on success from 2 Scotts — Adams and Fitzgerald — and one Bob.

"In hindsight, it looks as if the projects that I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success."

Writes Scott Adams, who followed his passion and invested in a restaurant that failed, then started drawing a comic strip — "Dilbert" — as "just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try" and became passionate about cartooning as it began to make him rich.

So Adams advises us not to take the advice "Follow your passion." Then he moves on to rejecting the advice that one ought to have goals. What you need is a system.

That's a pretty amusing column at the link, and I see it's adapted from a book that's coming out next week — "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big."


There are only 2 Bob Dylan songs that use the word "success" and they are both on the same album which is probably the album that made the deepest impression on my mind when I was a malleable teenager, "Bringing It All Back Home":

1. "She knows there’s no success like failure/And that failure’s no success at all."

2. "Get dressed, get blessed/Try to be a success/Please her, please him, buy gifts/Don’t steal, don’t lift/Twenty years of schoolin’/And they put you on the day shift...."

Naturally, after 12 years of schoolin', I went to art school. After 16 years of schoolin' and 5 years unschooling, I went to law school. There's a "Bringing It All Back Home" "Highway 61" song with the word "lawyers":
You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known...
After 19 years of schoolin', it took 20 years of professing — looks liked or not — to get to blogging, which included, inter alia, The Gatsby Project, which never officially ended, so here's another sentence:
If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.


Henry said...

Here's Graham Parker singing Success.

Jay Retread said...

Of course "Ballad of a Thin Man" is on Highway 61Revisited, not Bringing It All Back Home...

Ann Althouse said...

Oops. Will fix.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

I'm a regular reader of both yours and Scott Adams' blog - there's sort of a similarlity in the thinking out of the box that's refreshingly thought provoking.

Just want to point out the restaurant came way after the success of the strip. There were lots of other failures before the strip took off, but restauranting wasn't one of them

Also being a very rare commenter, want to take the opportunity the say how much I always enjoy your Dylan discussions.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm so familiar with it, I'm not familiar with it.

Ann Althouse said...


Thanks for the time sequence correction.

Jeff Gee said...

When I think success, I think Success.

Henry said...

Nassim Taleb in Antifragile has some interesting things to say about the relative success of restaurants vs centralized banking systems.

Restaurants fail all the time. Yet restaurant scenes thrive. It is easy for restaurants to fail, and simultaneous for new restaurants to take the place of the failed ones.

Easy failure means that entrepreneurs have opportunity to learn from their success. It also means that entrepreneurs learn from other people's failures.

Failure is information.

In contrast, centralized banking systems almost never fail. There's no information about failure. So when they fail, they fail catastrophically.

Ann Althouse said...

"Restaurants are fragile; they compete with each other, but the collective of local restaurants is antifragile for that very reason. Had restaurants been individually robust, hence immortal, the overall business would be either stagnant or weak, and would deliver nothing better than cafeteria food— and I mean Soviet-style cafeteria food. Further, it would be marred with systemic shortages, with, once in a while, a complete crisis and government bailout. All that quality, stability, and reliability are owed to the fragility of the restaurant itself."

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012-11-27). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (pp. 65-66). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Henry said...

It's too bad "Nassim" isn't nicknamed "Scott". Then you could have a 3 Scott post.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Mr. D said, "Everything went from bad to worse/ Money never changed a thing." That's from "Up to Me," an inspiring song (not like you'd expect from those two lines) done in a thrilling version by Roger McGuinn on the 1976 album "Cardiff Rose." The 2004 CD liner notes have several pages of McGuinn's reminiscences about playing basketball with Dylan in McGuinn's backyard -- Dylan blocked McGuinn's shot! -- learning to ski from Dylan's daughter, thinking up the Rolling Thunder Revue, etc.

rehajm said...

1.Nobody values a business plan anymore- you have no idea what you're going to discover during the startup phase, and your business won't look anything like your plan if/when your enterprise graduates to a profitable operation. Adams' system riffs on the same idea- you need a process to move your idea through the discovery phase.

2. You make money on the booze. Food is a loss leader or at best a break even proposition.

3. You think all those celebrity chefs run profitable restaurants? I'm amazed at how much money many of them lose while keeping the doors open. Philanthropy keeps it going. Guys that like to eat write big checks to restaurant LPs never expecting to see a return. Again and again, often to the same chefs. ROI is rare.

Freeman Hunt said...

That Scott Adams editorial fills in a gap I hadn't figured out how to fill when people ask me about how to get into the same kind of business as my husband. You have to work incredibly hard, but it's probably only going to work out if you're also very good at it. But you can't say, "Only do this if you're good at it." People often have no idea whether or not they're good at something, and he's right that "follow your passion" is no help. (For example, I was passionate about playing basketball in high school, but I was also pretty terrible at it. It would have been absurd to try to follow that passion long term.)

But telling people to work hard and follow success, that's a winner. Then you're not telling people to chase unsuitable fantasies. Keep trying things, and if you start finding success with something, you're probably good at it, and your successes will make you passionate about it. Don't get locked in to an untested idea of what your vocational identity is. You're a person and therefore much broader than something so narrow.

ken in sc said...

I used to help my father run a restaurant, when I was in town. It is hard work. You have to deal with crooked inspectors, and people who don't show up for work. No matter how much you charge, it does not cover what you have to pay out. If you have a place you enjoy eating at, be aware they are barely breaking even.

William said...

I think The Great Gatsby is a stylized retelling of Fitzgerald's courtship of Zelda. He had a great success with his first novel and became rich enough to marry her. What a lucky break for him! Early marriage to an increasingly psychotic woman. The things money can buy......Maybe Great Expectations remains the best rags to riches novel. It's all a fraud. The higher you climb, the less oxygen there is to breath.