Dilbert Creator: Think Systems over Goals

“Your dreams of creating a dry-cleaning empire won’t be helped by knowing that Thomas Edison liked to take naps.” – Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal last weekend which outlined some of his career advice based on his experience with failure over the years. Here’s my favorite part of the article:

Throughout my career I’ve had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.

This is an important distinction because using systems (in your career, exercise, investments, finances, etc.) forces you to strive for continuous improvement to keep learning and looking at problems through a fresh set of eyes instead of putting blinders on and focusing on your end goal above all else.

He also advises people to avoid the boilerplate follow your passion advice that we hear so often.  His experience with passion was that it increased in those jobs he was able to achieve success while it decreased in those places where he failed. So passion ends up being more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than something to constantly search for.

The entire article is worth reading:
Scott Adams’ Secret of Success: Failure (WSJ)