Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

November 4, 2013 Biz Books

Failure is a means to success

“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” by Scott Adams (Portfolio, $27.95). If you’ve read Adams’s Dilbert cartoons, you’ve smiled and saw the folly in workplace life. His life’s allegory served as inspiration for many of the cartoons; in many situations, he was Dilbert.

Adams, an MBA graduate of the University of California Berkeley, started his worklife at Crocker Bank. He worked his way up to a management position and could have been a VP had he not declined an SVP’s invitation to ride coattails by being his gopher. PacBell was next; about 60 percent of his budget-management job involved looking busy. There, Adams found his corporate ladder didn’t have many rungs, so he decided to revive his long-lost interest in cartooning — despite a lack of artistic talent and that field’s rarity of success.

His first step down that path was focus. Fifteen times a day he wrote: “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” The affirmation brought him to realize that it wasn’t the goal, or the passion behind it, that mattered. What did matter? Devising a system to bring about progress, achievement — and satisfaction. How drives what.

Example: Employees should focus on how to be recognized and promoted — which entails far more than just doing their jobs. Creating opportunity becomes the job within the job.

When it comes to developing a system, keep it simple. “Complicated systems have more opportunities for failure.” Why? Because they’re difficult to replicate consistently. Once you have a system that works, optimize it.

Here’s his Dilbert — optimized system. By putting his email address in the cartoon, he receives ideas from readers. Using storyboard software, Adams only needs an hour to bring their ideas to life. It’s an optimized system that gets the job done quickly, and frees time to build systems for other things.

Adams’s message: Even when your system fails, it really doesn’t. “Failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Learn from it. That’s a system.”

“Dare — Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage and Career for Women in Charge” by Becky Blalock (Jossey-Bass, $27.99). Blalock backs her advice with her been-there-done-that experience as senior vice president and chief information officer of a $16.5 billion firm. That advice begins and ends with developing your personal brand. It starts with realizing that “you have a brand whether you’ve consciously crafted one or not.” Once you enter the ranks of management, you communicate that brand by your actions and words.

Brand-building’s foundation finds its roots in integrity. It’s all about trust. People want to do business with people who “tell the truth, do the right thing and not withhold information.” Without trust, you won’t have followers — and other leaders will take notice.

Good isn’t good enough for a personal brand. You need you’re A-game every day. Whatever the task, outcomes are about excelling. Initiative plays a huge role in excellence because you can’t “sit and wait for someone to tell you what needs to be done to overdeliver in your position”.

Forget your job description and think outside your box — or you’ll be boxed in by those who do. Volunteer to head projects, especially those “grunt” assignments no one wants to tackle. While mundane, they offer as much a learning and experience-building tool as a lateral assignment.

You also need to learn how to toot your horn without blowing it. The best way to broadcast your value is to brag about the work of your team and its members to those on the rungs above. It’s win-win for all parties. The higher ups see team accomplishment and leadership; team members see a boss who appreciates their work.

Blalock’s advice applies equally to men climbing the corporate ladder.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF