Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert comics and a best-selling self-improvement author. His career advice is:

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like.

But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: Become the best at one specific thing. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try. The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort…

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix.

For most people, the correct career advice is figure out some clever specialty and get very, very good at it. The trouble of it is, is if that’s all you do, you make terrible mistakes everywhere else. So synthesis should be your second attack on the world.

-Charlie Munger

This chapter has 3 sections:

  • How to have an average successful life

  • How to have an extraordinary career

  • Useful office skills

Average successful life

In this book, the “Financial freedom” chapter describes how to become independently wealthy in 5–10 years by working a regular day job and running a side business.

An ideal day job is working for the government. Compared to the private sector, unionized government workers:

  • Earn 21% more with a bachelor’s degree (53% more with only a high school diploma)

  • Work 11% fewer hours

  • Have a 66% lower risk of being fired

When securing a new job, 61% of workers are helped by a former manager or co-worker, 17% by an acquaintance, and 13% by a friend or relative.

You don’t have to love your job. Jobs can be many things, but they’re also a way to make money. Many people live fine lives in okay jobs by using the money they make on things they care about.

-Conor Barnes

Extraordinary career

We live in a world where superstars reap most of the rewards:

  • 1% of artists account for 64% of sales at auction

  • 1% of musicians account for 60% of concert-ticket revenues worldwide

  • 1% of scientists account for 42% of published papers

  • 1% of workers account for 17% of national income in the United States

  • Fortune 500 CEOs earn 339X more than their employees

  • The world’s richest 8 people own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion

You can’t be normal and expect abnormal returns.

-Jeffrey Pfeffer

Here is a system for becoming a superstar:

  • Develop your talent stack

  • Learn fundamentals and new knowledge

  • Create a new niche

  • Increase luck

  • Create leverage

An intense interest of the subject is indispensable if you are really going to excel. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things, but I couldn’t be really good in anything where I didn’t have an intense interest.

-Charlie Munger

Develop your talent stack

Scott Adams defines a talent stack as being very good at several things. For example, Adams is not the best artist or writer. But he says, “When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique.” With his talent stack, Adams created the first popular comic strip about office workers and generated a net worth of $80 million.

For your talent stack, develop skills faster by following the “Learning” chapter in this book.

I made a list of the skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge. I wouldn’t expect you to become a master of any, but mastery isn’t necessary. Luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas…Public speaking, Psychology, Business writing, Accounting, Design (the basics), Conversation, Overcoming shyness, Second language, Golf, Proper grammar, Persuasion, Technology (hobby level), Proper voice technique.

-Scott Adams

Learn fundamentals and new knowledge

Scientific knowledge is doubling every 8 to 9 years. In parallel, about 50% becomes outdated or is disproven. What knowledge is worth learning?

  • First, focus on fundamentals. In every field, some timeless principles and techniques stand the test of time.

  • Second, monitor the latest developments for opportunities to create new niches. Consider joining a community of enthusiasts.

  • Finally, keep a mental list of the top 10 problems in your field. Over time, your subconscious will seek solutions.

I very frequently get the question: “What's going to change in the next 10 years?” ...I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two—because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time...It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher” ...When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

-Jeff Bezos

Create a new niche

Use your talent stack to create a new niche. That way, you don’t compete against entrenched incumbents. For example, it would be difficult to succeed with a new comic strip about office workers—Dilbert dominates that niche.

Also, new niches offer the opportunity for explosive growth. For example, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen studied the computer disk drive industry. He found that companies which brought proven technology to new markets had a 37% chance of reaching $100 million in revenues versus 6% for companies entering established markets. By using proven technology, companies reduced technical risk and were able to focus on creating the new market.

You become a famous artist (or a famous product) by being first in a new category. Over time art critics give the new category a name and associate it with the painter who pioneered the category. Sensationalism and Damien Hurst, for example.

-Al Ries

Increase luck

In fields such as art, music, books, and science, researchers found that luck accounted for 50% of career success. Increase your luck by producing lots of work—studies of creative geniuses found that quantity increased the probability of masterpieces. Another way is placing yourself in fortune’s path. Big cities, top schools, and talented teams attract opportunities.

Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity—it is very much like compound interest.

-Richard Hamming

Many people do not realize that they are getting a lucky break in life when they get it. If a big publisher (or a big art dealer or a movie executive or a hotshot banker or a big thinker) suggests an appointment, cancel anything you have planned: you may never see such a window open up again. I am sometimes shocked at how little people realize that these opportunities do not grow on trees. Collect as many free nonlottery tickets (those with open-ended payoffs) as you can, and, once they start paying off, do not discard them. Work hard, not in grunt work, but in chasing such opportunities and maximizing exposure to them. This makes living in big cities invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters.

-Nassim Taleb

Create leverage

Most superstars have found a way to leverage their career. For example, Naval Ravikant is an entrepreneur and investor. He explains leverage in the real estate industry:

  • A laborer gets paid $15/hour

  • A general contractor gets paid $50,000 for a project; hires laborers at $15/hour; and pockets the difference

  • A real estate developer raises money from investors; buys a property; hires contractors for renovations; and sells it for a profit of $500,000

  • A real estate fund manager raises money from institutional investors; invests in dozens of real estate developers; and makes millions in profit

  • An entrepreneur raises venture capital and hires a team of software engineers; they develop technology that automates real estate transactions; the company goes public at a valuation of $1 billion

Software is highly leverageable. Once it’s created, it costs almost nothing to manufacture and distribute. This allows it to scale quickly to millions or even billions of users. It’s similar for other digital goods such as music, movies, books, and video games.

A great lathe operator commands several times the wage of an average lathe operator, but a great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer.

-Bill Gates

Office skills

When I started my career, I wish I knew these skills:

How to manage people and how to be managed

  • Schedule a weekly one-on-one meeting to discuss tactical problems and solutions

  • Schedule a monthly one-on-one meeting to review:

      • Accomplishments for the past month

      • Goals for the coming month

      • What is the biggest problem in the organization?

      • On a scale of 1 to 5, how happy are you working here?

      • How are you developing your career?

90 minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinate’s work for 2 weeks, or for some 80+ hours…Clearly, one on ones can exert enormous leverage.

-Andy Grove

How to run a meeting

  • Before: send an agenda with the goal

  • Beginning: ask whether everyone still agrees with the goal

  • During: write key points on a whiteboard, ensure everyone gets to talk, and keep track of time

  • After: send a summary of key points, decisions, action items, and people responsible

I am frequently asked to facilitate meetings. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter where we are in the conversation, 20 minutes before the agreed end-time of the discussion, I must force the question: “So what’s the next action here?”

-David Allen

Tips for projects

  • Project plans should include goals, tasks, and timelines

  • All projects should have a responsibility matrix:

      • Accountable: who sets the goal and owns success or failure?

      • Responsible: who is doing tasks and hitting deadlines?

      • Consult: whose opinions must be asked?

      • Inform: who wants progress updates?

People always ask me where they should go to work, and I always tell them to go to work for whom they admire the most.

-Warren Buffett

Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck—and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.

-Michael Lewis


Adams S. (2007, July 20). Career advice. Dilbert Blog.

Average successful life

Falk F et al. (2017). Comparing the compensation of federal and private-sector employees, 2011 to 2015. Congress United States Congressional Budget Office.

  • Total compensation (wages plus benefits) of public vs. private sector workers from 2011 to 2015 was higher for those with a high school diploma or less (53%), bachelor’s degree (21%), or master’s degree (5%)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011, May). National Compensation Survey: Occupational earnings in the United States, 2010. Bulletin 2753.

  • In 2010, full-time state and local government employees worked an average of 1,823 annual hours vs. 2,049 hours for private industry establishments with 100 workers or more

Edwards C. (2010). Public sector unions and the rising costs of employee compensation. Cato Journal. 30(1): 87–115.

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “layoffs and discharges” in the public sector occurred at one-third the rate of the private sector

Gershon I. (2017). Down and out in the new economy: How people find (or don’t find) work today. University of Chicago Press.

  • A study of 380 successful job searches from 2012 to 2014, and 165 interviews with blue-collar and white-collar workers, found that 61% were helped by workplace ties, 17% by an acquaintance, and 13% by a friend or relative

  • Job seekers discovered jobs through word of mouth (37.5%), recruiters or staffing agencies (35%), and online (26%)

Extraordinary career

McAndrew C. (2018). The art market 2018. UBS.

  • In 2018, 1% of artists accounted for 64% of sales at auction

Shah N. (2019, May 4). Music superstars are the new one percenters. Wall St J.

  • In 2017, 1% of music performers accounted for 60% of all concert-ticket revenues worldwide

Ioannidis JPA, Boyack KW, Klavans R. (2014). Estimates of the continuously publishing core in the scientific workforce. PLoS One. 9(7): e101698.

  • A study of 15,153,100 publishing scientists found that 150,608 (<1%) accounted for 41.7% of all papers published from 1996 to 2011

Bakija J, Cole A, Heim BT. (2012, April). Jobs and income growth of top earners and the causes of changing income inequality: Evidence from U.S. tax return data.

  • In 2005, the top 1% earned 17.0% of national income (excluding capital gains)

Staff of Representative Keith Ellison. (2018, May). Rewarding or hoarding? An examination of pay ratios revealed by Dodd-Frank.

  • In 2018, Fortune 500 CEOs were paid an average of 339X more than their median worker

  • In 1965, the ratio was 20X

Hardoon D. (2017, January). An economy for the 99%. Oxfam GB.

  • In 2016, 8 men owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the world

Bleznak B. (2021, January 7). Scott Adams net worth 2021, age, height, weight, biography, wiki. Wealth Record.

Bornmann L, Mutz R. (2015). Growth rates of modern science: A bibliometric analysis based on the number of publications and cited references. Journal Association Information Science Technology. 66(11): 2215–2222.

  • A study of 38,508,986 scientific publications from 1980 to 2012 found that scientific knowledge doubled every 7.8 to 8.9 years

Tsay M. (2009). An analysis and comparison of scientometric data between journals of physics, chemistry and engineering. Scientometrics. 78(2): 279–293.

  • An analysis of 425 physics, chemistry, and engineering journals found that cited half-life of articles ranged from 7.03 to 7.96 years

  • Cited half-life reflects timeliness with which articles in a journal are citing other articles and are cited by other articles

Hamming R. (1986, March 7). You and your research. Transcription of the Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar.

  • “Most great scientists know many important problems. They have something between 10 and 20 important problems for which they are looking for an attack. And when they see a new idea come up, one hears them say ‘Well that bears on this problem.’ They drop all the other things and get after it.”

Christensen CM. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business School Press.

  • From 1976 to 1993, 83 companies entered the U.S. disk drive industry

  • Companies that brought existing, proven technology to markets less than 2 years old had a 37% chance of reaching $100 million in revenues vs. 6% for companies that entered existing markets

Janosov M, Battiston F, Sinatra R. (2020). Success and luck in creative careers. EPJ Data Science. 9: 9.

  • A study of luck, individual ability, and success analyzed the following data sets: 803,013 people who contributed to 1,297,275 movies; 2,069,891 authors who wrote 6,604,144 books; 379,366 musicians who released 31,841,981 songs; and 1,204,688 scientists who published 87.4 million papers

  • Across fields, the influence of luck consistently ranged from 51 to 56%

  • The biggest success of a person’s career occurred randomly at any time

Pluchino A, Biondo AE, Rapisarda A. (2018). Talent versus luck: The role of randomness in success and failure. Advances Complex Systems. 21(3&4): 1850014.

  • A series of computer simulations with agents of differing talent and luck found that the most successful agent was 128X more successful than the average of the more talented agents

  • 16% of agents had a neutral-luck life, whereas 40% of agents had exclusively lucky or unlucky lives

  • There was a strong correlation between success and luck vs. no correlation between success and talent

Simonton DK. (1997). Creative productivity: A predictive and explanatory model of career trajectories and landmarks. Psychol Rev. 104(1): 66–89.

  • Studies of paintings, plays, patents, publications, and music found that rate of successes to total attempts stayed approximately constant over the lifespan of creators

Office skills

Bryant A. (2013, August 1). Luc Levesque of Trip Advisor, on frequent evaluations. New York Times.

  • To create alignment, monthly performance reviews should include upcoming goals

Did you enjoy this chapter? Read the full book. Download your free copy: EPUB MOBI PDF

Copyright © by Raven Dojo Inc.

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty