People always ask cartoonists these three questions:
  1. How long does it take to create a comic?
  2. How many do you create per day?
  3. How do you come up with ideas?
The answer to the first question is that a 3-panel daily comic takes me about two hours from idea to final art. But it can be as fast as 30 minutes if the idea comes quickly and the art doesn't need much detail. The Sunday comics take about five hours apiece. The quickest I could do a Sunday comic would be about three hours.

My schedule is that I write two daily comics every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I do the writing and rough art in the early mornings, starting at 5 a.m., when my creative energy is highest. And I do one Sunday comic on Wednesdays. I do the finished art whenever I have time, usually evenings and weekend mornings. I aim for nine comics over seven days, to give some cushion for days I can't work for one reason or another.

The third question, about how I come up with ideas is more interesting. The simple answer is that I'm wired that way. It happens somewhat automatically. I couldn't shut it off if I tried.

But internally, the sensation is that I am trading memory for creativity. I'll explain.

My creative process feels to me like a stream of ideas rushing through my mind, pausing only long enough for a reflexive evaluation. 95% of the ideas get flushed immediately, thus making room for the next idea in the stream. For me, the active part of creativity is the flushing - also known as forgetting - of the bad ideas so the new ones have space to enter. The faster I forget, the more creative I am.

As luck would have it, I have a notoriously poor memory for most things. So my stream of ideas doesn't have much stickiness to it. The only ideas that make it out of the stream and into my more rational mind are the ones that move me physically. And by that I mean I have some sort of body reaction that can range from a giggle to goose bumps. If I don't "feel" the idea, I flush it.

If I feel the idea with my body, I let it stick around long enough to apply my rational filter. That kills most ideas.

But sometimes I have an idea that sticks in my mind so aggressively that the only way to dislodge it is to go public. So I blog about the idea, or put it in a comic, or otherwise give it some oxygen. That's the hard way to flush it. But once it's out, I can let go. I've done my job by giving the idea its moment in the sun. If it dies in public, it was meant to be. And I move on.

So the question I have for you today is about the relationship of memory and creativity in each of you. My hypothesis is that poor memory is necessary for high-production creativity.

In the comments, let me know your memory powers from 1-10 (ten is a photographic memory) and also your creative talent (ten would be commercially creative, like a daily cartoonist). This format would be useful:


Is memory the enemy of creativity?

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A growing number of futurists are speculating that someday human minds will be transferred to computers. Let's assume that will happen, whether in a hundred years or a thousand. Futurists say that all we'll need is fairly normal advances in technology to get there.

At the moment, the best minds in science believe that time travel is impossible, at least in the sense of sending a solid object back in time. But a number of scientists are noodling with the idea that binary information can be sent back in time using some sort of strange quantum trickery. Again for fun, assume someone in the future figures out how to send information back in time.

Combining my two assumptions, it means that someday future robots with human-originated minds will have the means to send their entire minds back in time, so long as there is some sort of detector in the present to pick up the signals.

The problem with building a detector in the present is that we can't know what method the future will invent for sending information back in time. But as the future gets nearer, we should be able to take ever-better guesses on what sort of detectors might work.

My idea is to start a long-term project of building various types of detectors and seeding the Internet with information about those detectors so our future robot humans can know what type of detectors to aim for. Every year, as we get better guesses about the type of detectors that might work, we build them and add them to the mix. In the short term, the detectors would be networked to normal data storage. Longer term, we'd build a robot with enough data storage for the incoming human mind.

Imagine some future human sitting in the detector lab next to the slumped robot that is waiting for an incoming mind from the future. The robot pops to life, looks around, and speaks its first words: "Wow! That actually worked!"

I like it as a movie plot.

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Which of these proposed teasers (to the same content) would make you want to click it?

1. Passion is bullshit

2. Goals are for losers

3. Lies that Billionaires tell

4. How Billionaires avoid looking like jerks

5. It comes out of a bull’s anus and billionaires can’t get enough of it!

6. How the rich keep you poor

7. Bad advice from rich idiots

8. The biggest lie that rich people tell

9. Can luck be manipulated?

I already have the opinion of an expert in this field. But I want a second choice to do some A-B testing on.

All of the teasers are honest representations of the material, at least so far as Internet teases go. And by that I mean that when you read the content you'd agree the headline made some sense with the material. It's a low standard. The headline is just to inspire curiosity.

Which one makes you most curious?


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It has been brought to my attention that I am sometimes too full of myself. I will stipulate that this is true. And it made me curious: Is the opposite approach to life - cultivating low self-esteem - working out well for its many practitioners?

A lot of people tell me I need to lower my self-esteem in the service of modesty, credibility, and protecting the sensibilities of those around me. I would like to heed that advice and be a team player, but I'm also plagued with bouts of rationality that are keeping me from making this improvement to my character.

Before I do anything drastic in life, such as evolving into a person who thinks less of himself for the well-being of others, I like to do a pros and cons list. I'll start with the advantages of thinking too much of myself.
  1. It feels great! All the time!
  2. It boosts my testosterone.
  3. It improves my performance at most things. Science agrees.
  4. Higher testosterone makes muscle growth easier.
  5. I take more risks. (This is admittedly a mixed bag.)
  6. I rarely feel embarrassment even when I should. (Such as now, for example.)
  7. I am emotionally immune from criticism.
  8. Cockiness has an aphrodisiac effect on some. (You know who you are.)
Now for the downside of thinking too much of myself...
  1. I take more risks than I probably should.
  2. People call me a dick in every online comments board on the Internet.
  3. Higher testosterone increases cancer risks.
 Advantage: cockiness (until I get cancer anyway)

I see my inflated sense of self-worth as more of a strategy for happiness than a flaw. And by that I mean I know how to dial-back my self-esteem but I choose not to. Just moments ago I was reading the five-star reviews for my new book (How to Fail...) for no other reason than boosting my morning energy. I manipulate my self-esteem the same way I manage my intake of coffee. When I need a jolt of feel-good, I spend some time dwelling on whatever has gone well recently. And when my mind wanders to the graveyard of my many failures, I change the mental channel as quickly as I can.

There's no such thing as the right level of self-esteem. Everyone who interacts with you will have a different idea of how much is too much for you. So I intentionally err on the side of too much. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Keep in mind that I have succeeded in several fields in which I had no identifiable talent before starting, including cartooning, the speaking circuit, and writing books. Had I cultivated a more socially acceptable level of self-esteem I wouldn't have tried any of those challenges.

I have failed in my personal life and in my career about ten times more often than I have succeeded, but my artificially high sense of self-esteem allows me to quickly bounce back and keep punching until something lucky happens.

Some of you will be quick to point out the difference between quiet inner-confidence and being an arrogant dick all over the Internet. But if you think high self-esteem can be masked, you probably don't understand what it is. The moment you feel high self-esteem, you lose the filter. In other words, if you feel you need to hide your high self-esteem, you don't have high self-esteem. That's how self-esteem works.

So I ask the following question in all seriousness: If you think I'm too full of myself (which I am), how is the alternative strategy working out for you? Are there some additional benefits of low-to-moderate self-esteem that are not obvious to me?

How to Fail at almost Everything and Still Win Big

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You should not take investment advice from cartoonists. Ever.

I'm only posting what follows as a control on my own selective memory. I'm going to publicly describe what I believe is a terrific investment idea. By going public I can't easily forget my prediction or later deny it happened.

You should NOT follow this advice. Seriously. Also, I own stock in the company I am about to mention. And I just doubled down. So I am not objective. Keep that in mind.

The stock is Turkcell (TKC), the leading Turkish phone company. The stock is getting hammered this week because of government turmoil, currency value, and whatnot.

The stock could stay depressed for years as things get sorted out. But in the long run, will fewer Turks need phone service? Not likely. And the economics of the phone business are well-understood.

I know little about Turkey except that the government seems intent on being a serious, modern country. It seems that every time I hear a story about Turkey it involves them trying to do something that sounds entirely practical. They have a secular government, capitalism, and NATO support. Now they're rooting out corruption in the government, or trying to. It seems as if they have a natural leaning toward pragmatism.

There's risk with any investment. Turkey could be destroyed by an asteroid tomorrow. Or cell phones could become obsolete. Or Turkcell's accounting could be rigged. A million things could go wrong. But that's true with every investment. If none of the worst case scenarios play out, people will continue to want cellphones and Turkcell is the leading operator in the country. I like those odds.

This investment idea is only the third I have ever had in the "can't lose" category. The first can't-lose idea I ever heard came from Sir John Templeton, a legend of investing, back in the eighties. When asked for his best stock pick in the entire world, he said to buy stock in the Mexican phone company. It was a monopoly and there was nothing that would keep Mexicans from buying evermore phone services. And they did. I bought some shares and sold after a tiny gain. Had I kept the shares, I would have made enormous gains over decades.

The second can't-lose idea came more recently, during the last big market crash, when it looked as if the United States might be heading toward a total financial meltdown. My idea at the time was to put 100% of my investment funds into Wells Fargo stock. The idea was that if the entire financial system collapses, it doesn't matter where your money is because it will be worthless. But if the economy survived, I thought, the strongest bank of the bunch would come back fast and strong. On a risk-reward basis, this was as close as you can get to free money. I didn't act on that idea, but it would have been a huge gain.

That brings us to Turkcell. In today's connected world I have a hard time imagining a leading phone company in any country failing to grow no matter what else is going on around it.

Please don't take my advice.

My new book is getting great reviews:

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

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The main theme of my book How to Fail...  is that goals are for losers. What you need instead is a system. For example, losing ten pounds is a goal, whereas learning about nutrition and diet so you can gradually replace willpower with knowledge is a system. (That makes more sense with a full explanation.)

Upworthy.com, which has experienced explosive traffic growth, has a great example of a system for making content go viral. Business Insider has a fascinating presentation on it. Upworthy concocts 25 headlines for each bit of content, just to increase the odds of stumbling on a few good ones. Then they do A-B testing on the favorites. Their experience is that no one knows in advance what will go viral, so the best you can do is a system that improves your odds. These guys are experts in creating viral links and yet only 6% of their links generate 100K views.

Upworthy creates only the intriguing link descriptions and not the content itself. When looking for good content that has viral potential, they say they look for these qualities.

Hero or villain

Emotion (raw, human, honest)

High production values

Surprising information

Say what others are thinking

Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually)

Inspire curiosity

Mom-friendly (to get maximum Facebook shares)

Compare Upworthy's viral checklist to Jonah Berger's checklist in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Berger says that the stuff that catches on has the following qualities.

Social Currency: How does it make us look to others?

Triggers: Does the environment remind people?

Emotion: Do we care?

Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product?

Practical Value: Is it useful?

Stories:  Does it fit stories that are already in the air?

Combining Upworthy's checklist with Berger's list, and getting rid of duplicates, we have this hybrid checklist.

Hero or villain
Emotion (raw, human, honest)
High production values
Surprising information
Say what others are thinking
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually)
Inspire curiosity
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others?
Triggers: Does the environment remind people?
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product?
Practical Value: Is it useful?
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway?

That's a lot of stuff to get right. So let's test the list against my experience with Dilbert. As we know with the benefit of hindsight, Dilbert is hugely viral. So how does it do against the checklist?

Hero or villain (YES - bosses are villains)
Emotion (raw, human, honest)  (YES)
High production values (NO, but good enough)
Surprising information (NO)
Say what others are thinking (YES)
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually) (NOT APPLICABLE)
Inspire curiosity (YES - comics scream "read me.")
Mom-friendly (YES)
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others? (YES -humor is attractive)
Triggers: Does the environment remind people? (YES - workplace)
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product? (YES - on cubicle walls)
Practical Value: Is it useful? (YES - humor entertains, informs, and relieves stress)
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway? (YES)

Dilbert hit all of the viral points except for "surprising information" and high production values. But in my case, the poor artwork actually helped, I think, in the sense that it signaled I was more of a cubicle victim myself than an artist. And that became a big part of the story.

Now let's look at my recent attempt at a viral video that attracted only 15K clicks as of this writing. I'll provide a link to it below, but don't look yet. I'm going to tweak the teaser to it below and see if it makes you click.

Here's how my not-so-viral video stacks up on the checklist.

Hero or villain (NO - except in a joke way)
Emotion (raw, human, honest)  (NO)
High production values (YES)
Surprising information (YES, for some - the Wacom Companion product)
Say what others are thinking (NO)
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually) (NO)
Inspire curiosity (NO - and the teasers to it were not A-B tested)
Mom-friendly (NO - some bleeped cursing and a hot tub scene)
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others? (NO - neutral)
Triggers: Does the environment remind people? (YES -graphic art is everywhere)
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product? (NO - not usually)
Practical Value: Is it useful? (YES - for artists who want freedom from desks.)
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway? (NO)

When I was developing the script for the video, my angle was that almost everyone knows someone who is a graphic artist, or wants to be one. And the technology shown in the video - the Wacom Companion - is a very big deal for graphic artists. It's the first time in my career I can effectively do work on an airplane, for example. So I thought (incorrectly) that anyone who knew a graphic artist would helpfully forward the link with news of this breakthrough device.

I learned after the fact that non-artists are completely unimpressed with the new technology because they don't see how big a deal it is to people who draw for a living. Few people realized the information would be especially helpful to their artist friends.

So I failed hard at making the video viral. But in the process of failing, I picked up a half-dozen new and probably useful skills.

For starters, I learned a whole lot about what to do right next time if I want something to be viral. I could have simply read about how to make things viral, but trying and failing is a much richer and more memorable experience. The doing makes the learning real. So my odds of making something viral in the future just went way up.

Failure is part of my system, by the way, as I describe in How to Fail...  I choose projects that will teach me something useful and increase my market potential no matter what happens. So while my video did not go viral, I now have a fairly deep understanding of what went wrong. And that will almost certainly be useful for future projects.

I also picked up some insights about writing for the camera. I plan to write a Dilbert movie script in 2014, so most of that is useful. So I failed forward, as my career system is designed to do.

Now let's do a little test to see if I can "fix" my video clip and make it viral by paying attention to the checklist. I need to change the focus from "look at this technology" to something that inspires curiosity and has an emotional charge.

So here's my new teaser. What you don't know is that the video was shot entirely at my house, which I built a few years ago. The house has one room in particular that perhaps no other house in the world has. See if you can spot it. And remember, every interior scene shown is an actual room of my house.

My new teaser headline for the link is this: Dilbert cartoonist has a VERY unusual room in his house.

You can track the hit count on the page with the video.

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I'm having a sudden outbreak of unwarranted credibility and it has me worried.

Dennis Miller recently interviewed me on his radio show and he had a lot of nice things to say about my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Paul Farrell, over at MarketWatch, reprinted my personal investment advice that has been floating around the Internet. The same list is also included in the most recent update of the classic personal investment book The Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Princeton professor of economics, Burton Malkiel.

As I mentioned in the last post, the Wall Street Journal lumped me together with famous people who actually know things.

In my book, The Dilbert Future, I coined the term "confusopoly" to describe companies in the same industry that confuse customers so much with their marketing that it isn't necessary to compete on price. The term caught on in Australia and has become a rallying cry against phone companies and their misleading advertising.

I recently released God's Debris on Kindle. Several years ago, after its softcover publishing run, I made the book available for free on the Internet. But folks have been asking for a Kindle version for convenience. A surprising number of people call God's Debris the best book they have ever read. The sequel, The Religion War, is based on a not-far future in which terrorists use small, home-built GPS-guided drones to attack population centers. That prediction is already coming true, and I wanted the Kindle version of God's Debris to be available when this sort of attack becomes a daily headline.

Someone asked me how many non-Dilbert books I've written. In this context, "non-Dilbert" means it is mostly original writing but might include some comics for humor relief within chapters. Here's the list.

The Dilbert Principle (workplace humor)
Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook (workplace humor)
The Dilbert Future (Humorous predictions)
The Joy of Work (workplace humor)
Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel (Humor)
God's Debris (fictional thought experiment)
The Religion War (fictional thought experiment)
Stick to Drawing Comics Monkey Brain (mostly from my blog writing, half humorous)
How to Fail Almost Every Time and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life (memoir/success)

Those books have everything you need to know about humor, careers, finance, religion, health, and success. If I left out anything, let me know and I'll write another book.


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This is weird...

The Wall Street Journal asked some "prominent" people about the best financial advice they ever got. My quote appeared on the list next to Carl Icahn's quote, which is weird enough. but weirder still, my quote involved practical financial advice whereas Icahn's quote was intentionally hilarious. I see it as the first move in what will probably be Icahn's unfriendly takeover of Dilbert.

Damn, he's good.

Rank Up Rank Down +34 votes | 4 comments | add a comment
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Dec 26, 2013 | General Nonsense | Permalink
Some people seem to be born givers. They get their pleasure by absorbing happiness from the people they please. Let's call it reflected happiness as opposed to direct.

Humans are all a bit different at birth, and presumably we are wired to get different levels of pleasure from this sort of reflected happiness. Sociopaths and other selfish people literally feel no pleasure from helping others. Natural givers, on the other hand, are willing to make great sacrifices for others because it feels so good to do so.

I'm not being judgmental. I'm just noting that people are wired for different rewards. And much of that is probably genetic.

So today, in this season of giving, I wonder if there are other traits that givers share. Specifically, I wonder if the bodies and minds of givers are extra-sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of others.

I think most of you know whether you are givers or takers. If you're a giver, do you also have some of the following characteristics?
  1. Are you shy?
  2. Do you dislike receiving gifts?
  3. Are you easily influenced by the taste preferences of others? (music, style, etc.)
  4. Do you avoid sad movies and books?
  5. Do you hate using a restroom if others are near?
  6. Do you enjoy spending time alone because people exhaust you? (Introversion)
  7. Do you often enjoy pets more than most people?
  8. Do you choose careers that make people happy?
If you are a giver, how many of the things on the list apply to you?


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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

You probably heard that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is getting a lot of heat for his anti-gay remarks. His interpretation of the Bible is that gayness is a sin. As you might imagine, the gay community and its many supporters are not pleased with Phil.

Before I continue I should confess my biases. I'm pro-gay-marriage and pro-gay in general. I also like Duck Dynasty. And while I am not a believer in the supernatural, my observation is that religion is a good force in the world, give or take the occasional terrorist act, genocide, Spanish Inquisition, bigotry, and oppressive boot-on-the-throat of personal freedom. The bad stuff gets a lot of attention, and should, but for the average person experiencing an average day, I think religion has real-world benefits. That's my unscientific observation anyway.

Most well-educated adults in the year 2013 understand that sexual orientation is something you are born with. Society's sense of fairness demands that we not judge people for genetic differences. So it is easy to understand why folks become righteously indignant when one group criticizes the genetic composition of another. That's not a world we want to live in.

Unfortunately, I have a problem with the intellectual consistency of the folks on my side of this debate. And I hate when that happens.

It seems to me that Phil Robertson was born with the brain he has. He didn't have a choice in the matter. And science is starting to understand that religious folks have different brain structure than non-believers. So how is it fair to belittle Phil for acting in the only way he could, given the brain he has?

One might say Phil has free will and therefore he chooses to be an evil bigot. But as I have argued here before, free will is an illusion. Our brains are every bit as subject to cause and effect as your lawnmower. Your lawnmower can't choose to be a toaster any more than a guy with Phil's brain and Phil's experience can choose to not be Phil.

So here we have two camps accusing each other of the same crime against decency. Phil and his crowd believe gays can use their free will to become straight if they choose to do so. Gays and their supporters believe Phil can use his free will to be tolerant if he chooses. Both sides are wrong. People don't control brains; brains control people.

Having said all of that, for practical reasons I'm in favor of the public outcry against Phil's views, although I don't support personalizing it and making Phil the one scapegoat in a universe that has produced a few billion people like him. The intellectual dysfunction of targeting Phil for shame bothers me, but not as much as the prospect of living in a world dominated by Phil's anti-gay views. So I'm glad my side is fighting back, and nudging society toward enlightenment, but I'm not happy to be associated with defective thinking.

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