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My new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, is released today in the United States.



I think it's my best work, and I have you blog readers to thank for that. Allow me to explain.

For years people have been asking me why I blog. At one point, blogging was taking about half of my work time while providing only 5% of my income. My wife and my friends asked "What is your goal in blogging?"

I don't do goals. I do systems. (That's a theme of the book.)

In this case, my system involved publicly experimenting with a variety of writing styles and topics and closely monitoring the reactions of readers. I was honing my writing skills and my understanding of the reading public. I didn't have a specific goal. I was aiming for "better."

I reasoned that my system would generate good opportunities for me in ways I couldn't predict with any precision. That's what makes it a system and not a goal. I was simply improving my odds that something good would happen. I just didn't know when it might happen or in what form it would come.

Blogging also charges me up. I like the interaction, the angry villagers with torches and pitchforks, and the possibility of saying something useful. It is one part of my overall system for keeping my personal energy high. It also keeps my mind sharp.

Several years into my system, it seems to be working. My blogging prompted the Wall Street Journal to ask me to write some guest articles for them. Those articles did well, in large part because the topics and the approach had been pretested in rough form here. I knew exactly which topics and writing styles would resonate with readers because of your comments and votes.

A combination of my blogging plus the exposure in the Wall Street Journal attracted a variety of fascinating and attractive business offers. One of those offers turned into the book that launched today.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is a sort of unified field theory for my observations on what works and what doesn't in the game of life. It's not advice per se, because as you know, taking advice from cartoonists is generally a bad idea. So I call it information, not advice.

Before you embark on anything important in your life, the first thing you will do - if it is available to you - is ask someone who travelled a similar path what they did and how it turned out. You won't follow that same plan, but it gives you a good starting place and a point of comparison. That can be worth a lot.

I'm in the middle of my promotional swing for the book. I just returned from a series of interviews in Los Angeles. The early reactions to this book are quite exciting. Not counting the Dilbert reprint books, I've written eight regular books. Only two of them got the kind of reaction I saw this week, and those were by far my most popular books. (The Dilbert Principle and God's Debris.)

Now I'm going to ask a favor. I wrote How to Fail to be helpful and not just entertaining. And to be helpful, people need to know it exists. If you were planning to buy it anyway, it makes a big difference if you do it soon because that's what pushes it onto the bestseller list and gives it a buzz.

I'm fairly sure you'll like it. After all, you helped write it.

Thank you in advance.

Here's a link.

 
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I don't know anything about Obamacare except that it's so complicated there's no point in an ordinary person trying to understand how it will all turn out. And evidently the people who try to understand Obamacare come to different conclusions about whether it will destroy civilization or simply help some people who need it.

But interestingly, I'll bet there will someday be an objective way to look back and say, "That worked," or "What the $#%@ were we thinking?"

For example, economists will someday calculate that Obamacare cost X number of jobs, or perhaps even created jobs, or it was a drag on GDP of X dollars, or perhaps helped GDP. And we'll know how many people got health care, especially preventive healthcare, that otherwise might not have. I think economists can calculate the economic value of preventive healthcare. In other words, I'm fairly sure that in ten years we can say Obamacare worked, overall, or it was a huge mistake.

So who is up for some side bets on Obamacare?

I'm sympathetic to the opinion that introducing a huge, complicated, government-run program is just asking for trouble. On the other hand, the Adams Rule of Slow-Moving Disasters says everything will work out.

As a reminder, The Adams Rule of Slow-Moving Disasters says that any disaster we see coming with plenty of advance notice gets fixed. We humans have a consistent tendency to underestimate our own resourcefulness. For example, the Year 2000 bug was a dud because we saw it coming and clever people rose to the challenge. In the seventies, we thought the world would run out of oil but instead the United States is heading toward energy independence thanks to new technology.

Obamacare is a classic slow-moving disaster. Absent any future human resourcefulness, it just might be a nightmare. But my money says that clever humans will figure out how to tame the beast before it triggers the collapse of civilization.

If betting were legal, I'd bet $10,000 that in ten years the consensus of economists will be that Obamacare had a lot of problems but that overall it was neutral or helpful to the economy. I base that hypothetical bet on The Adams Rule of Slow-Moving Disasters, not on the scary first-year state of the law. And I reiterate that I know next-to-nothing about the details of Obamacare. I'm just working off of pattern recognition.

The armchair economist in me thinks there is a solution to the problem of some folks thinking Obamacare will be a disaster and other people thinking it will not. Simply create an online market in which the opposers can buy "insurance" from the supporters. In other words, a hardcore Tea Partier could pay $1,000 now to insure against future Obamacare calamity to his own net worth. An Obamacare supporter would accept the $1,000 and put in escrow $10,000 as a payout in the event that Obamacare heads to the worst case scenario. This idea needs work, but the idea is that opposers and supporters could place insurance-like side bets.

Which way would you bet? And keep in mind that you know as little about Obamacare as I do.

 
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About a year ago I blogged that I was trying to "sell" an idea to a venture capitalist. The experiment involved asking publicly (here) if a venture company would give me 5% equity in a start-up for doing nothing but describing a good idea. For qualified investors, I would describe the idea, and if the first said no, I would work my way down the list. About a dozen investors with varying resources and experience asked to hear the idea.

It shouldn't be possible to sell an unpatented idea because the world rewards execution, not ideas. Everyone has good ideas. Good ideas have no economic value. But this particular idea seemed special, at least to me. It's a lever-that-moves-the-world type of thing. Could this particular idea have been an exception?

Two highly qualified investors heard my idea and both liked it enough to want to pursue it. The first gentleman wanted more time to study the opportunity before committing, and he couldn't say how long that might take. So with his permission, I moved to the second investor. The second investor ran it by his board and everyone liked the idea a lot. But before I could sign the investment documents, the investor backed out because of unrelated business events that were going to absorb his company for some time.

During the time I was shopping that idea around, I was writing my new book that comes out October 22nd (How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big) and working with partners on an entirely different start-up that also launches in beta this month. I was stretched thin. And so the best and most important idea I have ever had has been sitting on a shelf.

I decided to free it today, and maybe make the world a better place.

The Karma Hypothesis is that releasing this idea to the world will put me in a good position with the universe when my book comes out and my start-up launches in beta any day now. I could use some good luck. And if karma isn't a real thing, I hope the idea will make the world a better place because I'm part of that too.

What follows is the idea I tried to sell. I hope someone implements it.

The idea is to combine online education with evolution and capitalism. Give me a minute to explain.

Imagine you take any standard education class and break the lessons into small, well-defined chunks. If the class is geometry, for example, one chunk might be a lesson on the Pythagorean Theorem and nothing else. These chunks would be standardized and published on a platform that allows anyone to "teach" that chunk. Simply submit your video lesson to the marketplace the same way an author submits work to Amazon.com (only easier). Over time, the best "chunks" of lessons get voted to the top. That way a student could take a geometry course that is taught by dozens of different teachers, one best-chunk at a time.

What's in it for the teachers of these chunks is a piece of the action, the same way Amazon pays authors and publishers. The teacher who has the most hits on a chunk of lesson becomes a best seller and makes a fortune. The fiftieth best teacher for that same chunk makes next to nothing.

I won't fully define the revenue model here, but I'm assuming that corporate training would be the biggest money-maker at first. For public education, the system would act as a paid tutor substitute at first, to supplement traditional classes. As online education starts to outperform human teaching (a trend that has already started) then the revenue model might change to public funding in some areas and a complete replacement of physical classes. For now, don't get hung up on the revenue model; there are several ways to go with that, including an advertising model.

As a student, you might prefer learning from different instructors and in different ways than normal folks. If you don't like the geometry course as it is taught by the creators of the best-selling chunks, you can weave your way through the course using other filters. For example, you might have one preferred instructor who doesn't rank high but you prefer his style. You could follow his chunks through the course. Or if you don't understand a particular lesson chunk, you could quickly sample some other instructors to see the same topic chunk from other angles. Everyone has a different learning style. Some students might want chunks with more repetition, more visual aids, or more auditory reinforcement. Once you find what works for you, you can filter your online classes for that style.

You would also be able to select instructors based on how well students who watched their lesson chunks performed on standardized tests. That gives students the option of following the most effective teachers even if they aren't best sellers for whatever reason.

Up to now, online learning has been little more than video footage of a teacher doing his thing as if teaching a class in person. Common sense tells you that you would get a better result with a team of developers that included a great writer, a great graphics designer for visuals, and perhaps a professional "reader" of the lesson who has no teaching experience at all but is engaging on camera. This is similar to how books are made now; it often takes a team of researchers, editors, and designers to create one bestselling book. I can tell you that the books I write would be quite shitty if the only way you could experience them was watching me on camera reading my first drafts. That's what online teaching looks like now. Imagine how good each lesson chunk could someday be if crafted by a team of experts and allowed to compete with all other lesson chunks for the same best seller spot. Think of it as rapid evolution for ideas on how to teach particular topics. The fittest ideas would survive and climb to the top.

I also imagine that the system would not have the normal copyright protection for intellectual property. Teachers would be free to steal ideas from competitors and improve upon them. That's what would make the system evolve so quickly. The good stuff would be copied immediately.

I imagine this system as an online platform for education that is in some ways similar to Amazon, at least in scope and depth. For the first several years you could expect the online courses to be somewhat worse than in-person classes. Still, there would be an economic value at the early stage because people can't always attend classes in person. Over time, better and better online learning chunks would evolve as motivated teams of developers try for best sellers. You would also have quirky loners creating homemade videos of lesson chunks and in some cases totally nailing it. They would become stars the way book authors sometimes emerge from obscurity. Teachers would become celebrities.

How good could online training become compared to live teachers? My guess is that it could be about three times more effective in the long run. Remember, you're comparing the best online classes in the world to the average physical classroom. It doesn't take much evolving for the best of one thing to be better than the average of another. Experience tells us that online education will someday surpass even the best in-person classrooms. My model of a lesson chunk marketplace gets you there faster, and probably better.

One of the biggest weaknesses of online teaching now is the notion that the person on camera needs to be a professional teacher. That seems limiting. Some students might respond best to a younger person with charisma who has no teaching background but is good on camera. Some students might prefer male teachers and some might prefer female. What I'm saying is that the existing model of plucking a favorite teacher from Stanford and filming him yacking leaves a lot of potential behind. What are the odds that this one teacher's personality and approach is a fit for most students?

Now imagine that someday traditional college degrees become obsolete. Perhaps in the future someone trusted such as Warren Buffett could define the class chunks that in his opinion form the perfect business education. A student could graduate with a "designer degree" that is, in effect, the Warren Buffett Business Degree. Employers would salivate over someone with that training.

One can imagine layering on all kinds of features to this online teaching system. I might want to chat with other students taking the same courses, or I might want to arrange study dates with locals. Assume all of those features are part of the system.

This idea is a lever that moves the world because education is the single most important driver of the economy. A little bit of improvement in education is a huge deal. The evolving-chunk marketplace for classes could get us a lot of improvement over the next decade. It could be a real game-changer. And given the skyrocketing cost of college, this could be a big deal for narrowing the income inequality gap.

So that's my idea. Please steal it.

And if you enjoy looking at things in new ways, you might like my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. The Wall Street Journal did a good job on an excerpt that is getting a lot of attention this week. And you can pre-order here.


[Note: Khan Academy is the opposite of the idea I just described. It's great in its own way, but pretty much the opposite of the open system where everyone can teach. The same is true for most of the comments I see about it "already being done."]
 
 
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You can read an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal of my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

Excerpt here

As I write this, my book is the #1 seller on Amazon.com in the categories of career guides and also motivation. That should worry you.

Book Link

 

 
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Studies consistently show that attractive people get higher pay and more job opportunities than the folks who are less attractive. In economic terms, that means an hour in the gym is equivalent to some number of minutes of education. And yet we tend to perceive people who take classes as dedicated contributors to the world's economic engine whereas people who exercise every day seem a tad selfish. Maybe we need to quantify the economic benefits of an hour of education versus an hour of exercise so we know how to get the best bang for the buck.

Healthy people generally have more energy, fewer health problems, less stress, better attitudes, and more influence over people. How much is all of that goodness worth? Would you be better off economically if you exercised daily or if you had a pot belly and a second degree?

Let's say you live in a parallel universe and you're in charge of hiring for your business. Two men apply for the job. As is the custom in this imaginary universe, the applicants submit their job histories and educational backgrounds along with pictures of their torsos. That's all you know about the candidates. They don't even interview in person.

How much more would you be willing to pay the applicant on the right? Let's say the average salary is $100K per year and both applicants are equally good at negotiating for salary. How much more per year would you be willing to pay the fitter applicant, all other things being equal?

 

[Update: Several of you observed that the original image of the fit person (the one in the middle now) is too scrawny. I added a third image that is more of a gym body (who wears pants correctly) than an under-eater. Now which of the three do you hire, all else being equal?]

The second question is just for the ladies and the men who prefer men. This time the question is how much extra income would the man on the left need to earn to before you found him as attractive (for marriage) as the man on the right. Assume everything else about the two men is equal: same senses of humor, personalities, etc. The only differences are income and fitness. Give me an annual income estimate that makes the two men equivalent from a mating perspective. Assume the man on the right (the fitter one) earns $80K per year. How much would the less-fit man on the left need to earn to be equal marriage material?

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My new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, will be released October 22nd but you can preorder on Amazon.

 
 
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What's the difference between a typical religious view of God versus a skeptical view in which there is nothing to the universe but matter and the laws of physics?

Answer: personality

The religious view is that God has a personality of sorts, albeit one that is often unfathomable. And that means God has some sort of intentions, ambitions, goals, or whatever the God version of those impulses might be. If God had none of those impulses, he would just float in space doing nothing.

The problem with the idea that God has a human-like personality is that human personalities are nothing but weaknesses and defects that we romanticize. For example, I might be kind to others because I want them to be nice to me, or perhaps I simply feel guilty when I'm not nice. God wouldn't have feelings of guilt and he wouldn't need a strategy just to be loved. He would have everything he needed all the time. Logically, God couldn't have a personality in the sense that humans do because our personalities are expressions of our defects and our DNA and our neediness.

For example, if you're ambitious, that's a romantic way of saying you're afraid of failure, or you're greedy, or you want to impress someone. God would not need any of that. Pick any human personality trait and it is either trivial or it is based on some sort of human limitation.

Even your sense of humor is based on a brain limitation. As a professional humorist, I make my living by writing thoughts that the normal human brain can't process without a hiccup that triggers a laugh response. God wouldn't have a sense of humor because he always knows how the joke ends, and no idea gives him a hiccup when processing a thought.

You can pick any personality trait and find the human defect that is behind it. Are you a highly social person? It probably means you have a fear of being alone, or you're so needy that you have to have the approval of others to feel right. Would the creator of universe have social needs? It seems unlikely.

If you agree that God wouldn't have a human-like personality and human-like needs and ambitions, you end up with a God who is indistinguishable from the sum of the laws of physics.

Language is part of the problem. Did God personally dictate every word in the holy books, or did the laws of physics guarantee that the particles in the universe would bump around until those books were written by someone? If you take away the human personality from God - because it makes no sense that he would have one - then God can still be the "author" of the holy books because he is the sum of all physical laws in the universe. The only difference between a religious and a skeptical interpretation is the choice of words.

My question of the day is this: If you believe in a traditional God, what personality traits do you think he or she possesses that are not based on defects?

-----------------------------

My new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, will be released October 22nd but you can preorder on Amazon.

 




 
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I was talking to my sister the other day and she said she wishes she had a flat panel TV on the wall of her home that is dedicated to displaying the family calendar. Oddly enough, as sibling coincidences go, I have been lusting after that very thing. Here's a view from my desk chair. (I started work at 3 am today so the room looks a bit dark.)


In the picture you see a wall that I have kept undecorated while I fantasize that someday my calendar and to-do list will appear on some sort of display there. I was imagining a ceiling mounted projector system, but with current technology that has some tradeoffs such as noise, heat, and a bad image in daylight. I'm waiting for technology to offer a cleaner solution.

You might ask why I don't use the TV in my office as the calendar. That would almost work, except I use the TV as a TV while I draw, and switching back and forth would be just enough of a pain in the ass that I might as well use my computer monitor.

Anyway, this made me wish that Apple and Samsung would create a "Calendar TV" for the kitchen. Let me spec it out a bit here.

Imagine a flat panel TV (like a big iPad) that has touch screen capability and a primary purpose of displaying your family calendar and your family to-do list, including shopping list. Every family member has a smartphone app that syncs their own calendars to the family calendar. The Calendar TV would hang face-high so you could also easily type directly onto the touch screen. If you open the fridge and see you need milk, just enter it into the Calendar TV and it goes to the family's common shopping list.

That's the basic function of the product. Future versions might include some of this:

1.     Calendar senses whose smartphone is in the room and only displays the information that person cares about. If two or more people are in the room it defaults to the full family calendar.

2.     Stream TV shows.

3.     Stream video security picture that pops up instead of the calendar when there is motion near the front door, or  wherever cameras are focused.

4.     Stream baby monitor pictures.

5.     Stream family photos.

6.     Track family members by GPS and display on a map, so you know when Dad is coming home. (Parents would be able to turn that function off for their own phones if needed.)

7.     Weather.

8.     Streaming music. (Wireless speakers as an option.)

9.     Bar code scanner so you can wave the empty milk carton in front of the TV and it gets added to the shopping list.

The Calendar TV's default function would be the family calendar, and it should never be more than one button away for the user. You want sub-second switching to the calendar from any other function. That's what makes this product a Calendar TV and not a general Smart TV. If you're streaming a TV show and want to see the calendar, one command pauses the show and switches.

Your phone app would be able to control all of the switching among functions, volume, etc. Or you could do the same switching on the TV's touch screen.

There's a psychological component to this product. If I tell you it is a Calendar TV, you might say you want one for your kitchen, perhaps mounted on the fridge door. Any features beyond the calendar are just icing. But if I say I have a so-called "smart TV" for you, and it does a thousand cool things, you probably say you haven't felt the need for any of it. This might be one of those less-is-more situations. Forget about the battle for the living room TV and focus on the kitchen. The kitchen is the brain of the house.

Would you buy a Calendar TV for $500?

 
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I'm glad I have this blog to show the comics my editor rejects. The version of the comic below that will run 11/30/13 has a different third panel. This is the original version that my editor rejected. Was he right?



On another topic, my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, will be released October 22nd but you can preorder on Amazon.

 


 
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I have a hypothesis that emotional intelligence is a function of imagination. In other words, your ability to imagine the future is what drives your decisions today. If your imagined future looks like a big foggy nothing, you might as well enjoy today because tomorrow is unknowable. But if you can vividly imagine your future under different scenarios, you'll make hard choices today that will, you hope, get you to the future you imagine and want.

You probably saw a news item in which people were shown digitally aged pictures of themselves and asked how much money they were going to save for retirement. The people who saw older versions of themselves saved more. The digitally aged photos were like a substitute for imagination. So we have one data point that is consistent with the hypothesis that imagination is the key to emotional intelligence.

I had intense stomach aches for all of my waking hours during my childhood. I didn't know it at the time, but my body doesn't digest dairy or meat well, and I tended to have both of those things with every meal. I spent some part of almost every day doubled up in a fetal position. As an adult, I discovered that adjusting my diet was enough to eliminate my stomach problems. But during my childhood I would withdraw into my imagination to divert my thoughts from the pain. I've always wondered if all of that intense imagining made a permanent difference in my brain.

I can imagine the future so vividly that I was planning my retirement before I was out of grade school. That's literally true. Thanks to my clearly imagined future it seemed easy to modify what I was doing on any given day to make my dreams come true in the future. Today we call that sort of discipline emotional intelligence. At the time it felt like nothing more than a vivid imagination. Perhaps imagination and emotional intelligence are closely related.

This is an important idea because emotional intelligence is highly correlated with success, and I would be surprised if it wasn't a primary cause. So I wonder if imagination, like most other mental processes, can be improved with practice. If so, it would seem we have a direct lever for improving a person's emotional intelligence.

If you know some teens, ask them what they see for their future. Some kids will give you a detailed roadmap of their future career plans. I believe those kids imagine their future somewhat vividly and have started their planning early. Other teens seem to have no imagination of their own future and they act recklessly today because they don't see a compelling reason to plan for the unknown.

If imagination is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence is the biggest factor in success, shouldn't we be training kids to better imagine their futures?

I would think that generic imagination skills alone would not be enough; one needs to imagine oneself in the future. Schools could create assignments in which kids are asked to write stories about their lives in the future. Or they could be asked to draw themselves as adults with their own kids, jobs, and homes. I have a hunch that sort of exercise would make a difference.

If you subscribe to the superstition of "will power" you might believe emotional intelligence is something that you either have or you don't. Perhaps you think the people who succeed have more of this magic thing called will power because they make hard choices today to improve their lives tomorrow. But will power is an illusion. People simply choose the path that looks best at the moment. And the moment is partly influenced by your imagined future. If you sharpen your imagination of your future, your preferences today might change, and to observers it will seem as though you have will power and emotional intelligence.

Perhaps the link between imagination and emotional intelligence is another reason role models are so important. A role model is a proxy for your imagination. It's easier to imagine having the life of someone you know than it is to imagine your own unknowable future.

I've written quite a bit about something called affirmations, which is a process in which you imagine your own preferred future at least once a day, usually by writing down your objectives multiple times. If the process of imagining your future helps you make hard choices today, it will seem to observers as if you have lots of emotional intelligence.

Does your common sense tell you that vividly imagining your preferred future improves your emotional intelligence today? I give that hypothesis an 80% chance of being right. What odds do you put on it?

I write a length about affirmations in a chapter of my new book, due out October 22nd, titled How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

 
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I'm planning to do a week of blogging on the topic of success, as part of a lead up to the release of my book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

And so I wondered if you'd like to cue me up with specific topics in the area of success/failure. Is there any accepted wisdom in that field that you'd like to see confirmed or destroyed?

 
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