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 I just got back from my book publicity swing through New York after appearing on Fox and Friends, CNBC's Squawk Box, Bloomberg News and more. It wasn't a good week to be in Manhattan. I'm saying it was cold. If you see something pink and frozen on the sidewalk in Midtown, that might be my ear.

Before I tell you my most embarrassing moment, I have to give you some background. Television hosts rarely have time to read a guest's book before an interview. So the publisher provides a handy summary to guide the interview questions in the right direction. Sometimes the summary gets misplaced, or the host prefers to wing it and go off script. That's when things get interesting because I only practice my answers for the main themes in the book.

Host Pimm Fox, for Bloomberg News, was interviewing me live on camera Wednesday and asked a question about a minor but interesting topic in the book that I wrote over a year ago. I suddenly realized, on live television, that I didn't remember part of my own book.

Uh-oh.

It was my last interview of the day, and those types of days have a 3 a.m. wake-up call, which my California body was still registering as midnight. This was the second day of that schedule. I have to tell you, time stands still when you're on live TV and you have no idea what should be coming out of your mouth.

I took "media training" years ago before my first book tour and they prepare you for that exact scenario. The trick to digging out of that hole comes from understanding that the audience doesn't care about the question itself - at least not for a book interview. They only care if the author says something interesting. So instead of answering the question as it has been asked, you respond as if a different question had been asked. The audience hardly notices.

But as I said, I was sleepy, so instead of smoothly changing the topic, I admitted on live TV that I couldn't remember part of my own book. I think I sprayed perspiration all over the newsroom like some sort of cartoon porcupine shooting its quills. It wasn't my finest moment.

But after the horrifying confession my media training kicked in and I babbled about something. I've heard that it doesn't look as awkward as it felt, but I have a hard time believing it.

On the plus side, I have the sort of job in which all bad news today is tomorrow's content for comics or blog posts or books. And after the initial flop sweat moment, I usually come to think of my embarrassments as highly entertaining in a strange way. I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with embarrassment. That's a lucky personality trait in my line of work because - if you haven't noticed - sometimes I fail in very public ways

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

 
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Scientist are coming closer to proving gravity is an illusion and the world is a hologram.


They could have just asked me.

I'm finishing my book tour in NYC today.  Only one major embarrassment so far. The host of Bloomberg News, Pimm Fox, randomly opened my book and asked me to elaborate on a fairly unimportant page I wrote over a year ago. I had to confess on live TV that I didn't remember part of my own book. Ouch.



 
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Next week (Dec 16 - 20) I'll be doing interviews on Skype and phone about my new book (How to Fail almost Every time and Still Win Big...).

But I'm adding a twist to the process, just to see what happens.

I'll do the interviews in the priority order of biggest reach. So if no one but a high school newspaper asks for an interview, I'll do it. For next week only, no media outlet is too small. I'll do as many as I can fit into my schedule.

If you're interested in talking to me next week (or sooner), just email me at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com and tell me roughly how big your audience reach is. Send me your Skype ID and/or phone number. I'll either call you when I have a minute or email to arrange a time.

You don't even need to be a professional writer. You just need a way to distribute the interview within your company or organization.

My guess is that I'll end up talking to just about everyone who asks. I don't have an assistant answering my email. I'll read everything that comes in, but I might not be able to respond to all of it.

Perhaps I'll be speaking with you soon. This should be fun.

 

 

 
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 I've been designing in my mind what I call a pitch-in kitchen. It's a kitchen designed for multiple helpers to pitch in. The kitchen might be used for servicing large parties, or to efficiently feed the homeless, or to simplify food preparation for a collective of neighbors. Today I'm focusing on the design, not the ultimate use of it.

The idea is to make the kitchen so user-friendly that a stranger could walk in and know where everything is and how it works. Perhaps there are tablet computers at each food prep area of a central island that gives instructions for tasks that are auto-assigned to people from a master menu. Anyone can walk in and tap the tablet's "what's next" button and immediately see instructions for washing and prepping the carrots, for example, complete with a picture showing the quantity needed and how they should be sliced. The software would be in charge of sequencing the steps as each volunteer checks in. If a volunteer doesn't feel comfortable with a step that is assigned, he can choose another.

I imagine the plates and cookware are color-coded so anyone can tell which cupboard or drawer holds what. If you can't find a ladle, type its name into the search box on the tablet computer to see a map of the kitchen with an arrow to the correct drawer.

People enjoy helping in the kitchen as long as they know where everything is. Most adults like the feeling of being useful. And food prep can be fun if you get the right group together. The trick is to automate the thinking and planning part of the meal prepping and let the humans do the mindless chopping, stirring, washing, sautéing and other tasks.

The meal organizer would start off by choosing a recipe online. Then the organizer would enter the number of diners to size the ingredients and click one button to order it all for delivery at a set date and time. Another piece of software would send out email invitations for kitchen helpers from the list of your party-invitees or volunteers. As people reply for various kitchen roles, from prepping to cooking to clean-up, the software keeps track and reduces the available openings on the fly. The software then sends out a schedule to each helper telling them exactly when in the process their contributions are needed. Perhaps each helper has a companion app for their phone that buzzes them when it is time for their step. You might be chatting with other party-goers until your phone says, "Time to wash the broccoli."

On a smaller scale, I designed my current kitchen for pitching in. For example, I didn't put the garbage receptacle below the sink because someone is often standing in the way when you want access to it. And I recently added a block of cutting knives on top of the counter because "Where do you keep the knives?" is the first question every kitchen helper always asks. I also plan to standardize the Tupperware-like containers so they all have the same lid no matter their depth.

Had I been cleverer, I would have added a garbage bag storage area inside the garbage/recycling pull-out drawer so any helper could see where the replacement bags are when they help take out the trash.

My favorite kitchen-nerd innovation is the kitchen cart. It's a wheeled metal cart that is tucked under a counter until needed to help clear dishes after a meal. Just wheel the cart around and load the dirty dishes and glasses from every nook and corner of the house after a party. If I had been smarter with the cart idea, it would include an attached garbage bucket so I could scrape food into it as I do the pick-up.

Do you have any kitchen efficiency ideas to add?

 
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Let me know if I missed it, but I saw no comments to my post yesterday in which anyone was willing to take a side in a debate that allegedly represents 49% of America.

I realize this blog readership skews toward skeptics and science lovers. But still, not one person is willing to make a rational case against doctor-assisted suicide?

That is exactly what I predicted.

The 49% poll number was never real. No rational person prefers the government having veto power over the end-of-life decisions that they, their family, and their doctors prefer. And the irrational people don't want me shining a light on their argument.

This reminds me of the conspiracy theory that says gay activists exaggerated the risk of AIDS to the heterosexual community because it was the best way to get funding. I have no opinion on the validity of that conspiracy theory beyond the fact that it activated my pattern recognition for the doctor-assisted suicide topic. It looks as though a tiny percentage of the public (a subset of creationists perhaps) has been using misleading poll results to make it seem as though support for their position is strong when in fact it is nearly non-existent.

I'm still willing to say I'm wrong about the polls being bogus. But it seems mighty strange that 49% of the American public are suddenly hiding.

I submit that the traditional media is missing a big story here on the misleading nature of those polls.

My book's sales rank has dropped since I started hammering on this topic, so I will take that as my guide to back off and let the 1% of the public who are  on the other side have their victory.

I will also take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who felt threatened by my choice of words on this topic.








 
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I'll start with a question.

If you, your doctors, and your family all agree on an end-of-life healthcare strategy to minimize your suffering, should the government be allowed to veto your choice?

Before you answer, keep in mind that the government's veto might devastate your family's psychological and economic health. Who is onboard with letting the government make those decisions over the wishes of you, your family, and your doctor?

I ask because I've never met anyone who would prefer the government to have veto control over their own healthcare decisions. That's why I think the debate over doctor-assisted suicide is a fake debate.

My hypothesis is that the alleged 49% of the country opposed to doctor-assisted suicide is more like 1% nut jobs and 48% people who got tricked by a poll question that was some form of "Should the government allow your doctor to kill you if it seems convenient?"

But I try to be open-minded. I really do. Can anyone point me to a rational person who would answer yes to the government having veto power over your end-of-life wishes, your doctor's advice, and your family's preferences?

It's no fair rewording my question into something you DO object to. I'm looking for someone willing to say proudly and loudly that the government should make their end-of-life decisions for them over their own wishes, the advice of doctors, and the wishes of their family. Any takers?

I submit that that person does not exist. If I am wrong, I'd like to debate you right here. Please show yourself. Maybe I'll learn something.

In the unlikely event such a person exists, and cannot be swayed with simple information such as the success stories of similar systems elsewhere, that brings us to the second topic on my list.

It turns out that having an outspoken opinion about anything important in this world is very bad for business. The folks who disagree with you on any sensitive topic will use it as a reason to take their business elsewhere.

That leaves no one but the nut jobs to dominate the debate. Sane people stay out of the line of fire.

Now here's the interesting part: I just became an orphan.

Living parents are a huge limiting force on a writer. I was always worried about embarrassing them. They trained me to be that way. I'm now freed from that restriction. (The rest of the family wouldn't much care.)

My remaining reason to self-censor is purely economic. In my unique case, 100% of the money I earn for the rest of my life will be spent for the benefit of others. I already have enough for my own needs. The main reason I keep working is because I am in a rare position to make an oversized contribution to the economy, and perhaps add value in other ways. Apparently I am genetically inclined to find that prospect satisfying if not necessary. I don't want my valuable business engine to clog up just because I was outspoken on an emotional topic. That wouldn't be fair to a lot of people in the value chain who were minding their own business.

So I'm going to offer you (the public) an arrangement. If my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything..." hits #1 on the NYT non-fiction list I will be freed of my last remaining reason to self-censor. And I will drive a stake through the government's heart on this doctor-assisted suicide topic.

You haven't seen me uncensored. You might enjoy the show.

I'll even sweeten the deal. I guarantee that you know someone who would benefit from the book. That person might be you, or it might be someone in your life who is making suboptimal career and lifestyle decisions and doesn't want your advice. The book is designed like one of those soft dog treats inside of which you hide the dog's medicine. The reader won't even see the useful stuff coming.

If you're counting, that's three potential benefits from one book: The book might help you personally, or at least entertain you. It might help someone you care about (after you read it first, of course). And it might free me to jackhammer some rational thought into the end-of-life debate.

Or you could just buy clothes for everyone on your shopping list. Clothes are fun too.

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

 
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After my blog post about my dad's death (below), in which I spewed hate against activists and politicians who oppose doctor-assisted suicide, people informed me that according to polls 49% of the citizens of my country disagree with me.

I have to call bullshit on the 49%.

The first time I have even spoken to someone who confessed to me an anti-doctor-assisted suicide position was this week, when a creationist reporter called me at home to ask why I preferred her dead. She and her husband are both activists against doctor-assisted suicide. (I confirmed to her that the world would be better off without her.)

I have no quarrel with anyone who has a different opinion on this or any other topic because no one should be judged by their thoughts alone. But if you are an activist against the right to die with dignity, you are an accomplice in the torture of countless senior citizens, including both of my parents. From a morality standpoint that puts you in the same category as pedophiles and terrorists. Keep in mind that even terrorists have a noble (to them) reason for their actions. (Hint: God)

I got criticism for my uncivilized writing on this topic. My uncensored words were shocking, and I realize that. But this is a topic that pits emotion against emotion. It's not strictly an economic decision. It's about how people feel. I defend my honest display of feelings because it is important information in this debate. I want the activists to know that I don't just disagree with them in some intellectual sense. They should know that I consider them as immoral as pedophiles and terrorists. And if the comments on the Internet tell us anything it is that I am not alone. That knowledge is a useful addition to the debate. People need to know that if they are accomplices in the torture of my family members or me, I don't merely disagree with their position on the topic; I wish them a painful death. No one sheds a tear when a terrorist accidentally blows himself up in his bomb-making factory.

Just to be clear, I don't favor killing people for political activism. I'm just saying I wouldn't shed a tear if an activist opposed to doctor-assisted-suicide died a painful death. I'm not proud of that position. I'm just being honest.

Note to the analogy-challenged: One shouldn't compare apples to oranges. But it's fair to say both are food. So while you might be tempted to argue the differences between an anti-doctor-assisted-suicide activist and a pedophile and a terrorist, you'd be missing the larger point that they are all examples of deeply immoral behavior. And the world would be better off without them.

Let me be the first to point out that I live in a bubble in Northern California. For example, I can't think of a single person in my extended social group who is a creationist. Clearly my experience is not representative of the country as a whole. You don't need to point that out in the comments. I get it.

My blog post from yesterday got reprinted all over the Internet, generating thousands of comments on various sites. I spent hours looking through them, and I would say 95% are clearly in favor of doctor-assisted suicide. But obviously the folks who comment on Internet message boards are not representative of the country as a whole.

I don't trust anecdotal evidence but I have a hard time believing that 49% of my country is opposed to doctor-assisted suicide. I would think you can only get that result if you ask the question in a way that leads the witness. I'm looking at you, pollsters.

If you ask citizens whether or not they believe doctors should have the legal right to kill terminally ill people, or some version of that question, of course you get a lot of resistance. I can easily imagine 49% of the public being opposed to a question that leads the witness in that way.

Now suppose you ask this way: "If you are terminally ill and expect to be in terrible pain for months, if not years, do you want the government to decide what healthcare options are available to you, or should that decision be made by some combination of you, your doctor and your loved ones?"

My best guess is that 90% of the public would oppose giving the government veto power over their personal healthcare decisions.

Many folks have legitimate concerns that doctor-assisted-suicide laws could be implemented poorly. The best safeguard would be a legal requirement that a citizen has to specifically request a doctor-assisted-suicide option in his written healthcare directive, complete with a personalized list of safeguards. For example, a rich person might request an independent panel of experts get involved, should the need arise, because he doesn't trust his next-of-kin to keep their paws off his inheritance. Others might entrust the decision-making to a doctor plus one trusted family member. And perhaps you can further specify what happens if you are in a coma, or not mentally competent, and so on. Each person can take on as much or as little risk as they like. It's called freedom. Is 49% of my country opposed to that?

 
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I hope my father dies soon.

And while I'm at it, I might want you to die a painful death too.

I'm entirely serious on both counts.

My father, age 86, is on the final approach to the long dirt nap (to use his own phrase). His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed. I'll spare you the details, but it's as close to a living Hell as you can get.

If my dad were a cat, we would have put him to sleep long ago. And not once would we have looked back and thought too soon.

Because it's not too soon. It's far too late. His smallish estate pays about $8,000 per month to keep him in this state of perpetual suffering. Rarely has money been so poorly spent.

I'd like to proactively end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But my government says I can't make that decision. Neither can his doctors. So, for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.

I'm a patriotic guy by nature. I love my country. But the government? Well, we just broke up.

And let me say this next part as clearly as I can.

If you're a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won't do that, because I fear the consequences. But I'd enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father. Now it's personal.

I know that many of my fellow citizens have legitimate concerns about doctor-assisted suicide. One can certainly imagine greedy heirs speeding up the demise of grandma to get the inheritance. That would be a strong argument if doctor-assisted suicide wasn't already working elsewhere with little problems, or if good things in general (such as hospitals and the police) never came with their own risks.

I'm okay with any citizen who opposes doctor-assisted suicide on moral or practical grounds. But if you have acted on that thought, such as basing a vote on it, I would like you to die a slow, horrible death too. You and the government are accomplices in the torturing of my father, and there's a good chance you'll someday be accomplices in torturing me to death too.

I might feel differently in a few years, but at the moment my emotions are a bit raw. If I could push a magic button and send every politician who opposes doctor-assisted suicide into a painful death spiral that lasts for months, I'd press it. And I wouldn't feel a bit of guilt because sometimes you have to get rid of the bad guys to make the world a better place. We do it in defensive wars and the police do it daily. This would be another one of those situations.

I don't want anyone to misconstrue this post as satire or exaggeration. So I'll reiterate. If you have acted, or plan to act, in a way that keeps doctor-assisted suicide illegal, I see you as an accomplice in torturing my father, and perhaps me as well someday. I want you to die a painful death, and soon. And I'd be happy to tell you the same thing to your face.

Note to my government: I'll keep paying my taxes and doing whatever I need to do to stay out of jail, but don't ask me for anything else. We're done now.


[Update: My father passed a few hours after I wrote this.]

 
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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.

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Help me understand the difference between a sexist and a run-of-the-mill asshole that happens to be male.

I've never met a man who believes that every man is better than every woman at any given task. And if he did hold that view, it would be an example of colossal stupidity, not opinion. Daily life is bristling with examples of women succeeding in every field. How does one not notice?

And if we're talking about prejudging the likelihood of a member of one gender or another having a particular preference or trait, that's how all humans process information. The only people who don't automatically prejudge are in comas. A normal, healthy brain prejudges everything in its environment based on limited clues and patterns. But as more information becomes available, one is able to judge more accurately. Perhaps the man you first assumed was a hobo, based on his scruffy appearance, is actually a great network engineer. The normal brain notices a pattern, makes a preliminary assumption about what it means, and looks for more information to confirm or disprove the initial snap judgment.

Have you ever met a sane person who thinks differently?

When the FBI profiler says the bomber is probably a male loner in his thirties, that isn't sexism so much as statistics. And when the DNA on the detonator indicates the bomber was female, the FBI profiler says, "Oops" and changes her opinion. Every normal, human brain processes information this same way, give or take some cognitive dissonance.

So who are the sexists?

I hear plenty of stories of workplace discrimination against women based on gender. So let's stipulate that gender discrimination is widespread. There are too many first-hand accounts to imagine it isn't real.

So who is doing the discriminating during the hiring and promotion process, and what does that look like in the year 2013?

If a man overlooks a female job candidate because of gender alone, isn't that more a case of stupidity than sexism? Clearly women are excelling at ever profession on earth, so what kind of hiring manager would fail to notice a worldwide trend so immensely obvious? Answer: a dumb one.

Dismissing a job candidate based on gender alone is ordinary incompetence. Fifty years ago I can easily imagine a smart man who happened to be a sexist because he witnessed scant few examples in which women were excelling at their careers. But in 2013 there is no such thing as a smart man who hasn't noticed that women are excelling in every field. I think it's time to label the hiring manager who bases a decision on gender incompetent, not sexist.

Then you have the category of men who are dismissive of women in general, or talk to women in a demeaning way, or objectify women, or are generally disrespectful to women. Those guys get labelled sexists too for being hostile to women. But is that the label that fits best?

In my experience, assholes are assholes all the time, not just to women. And their impact is plenty toxic to men as well. I suppose somewhere on earth there is a guy who trash-talks and objectifies women during the workday then goes to his volunteer job feeding the elderly at night, but I kind of doubt it. I've never met a man who was an asshole to women but treated everyone else with respect. Being an asshole is a fulltime job.

So I think it's time to acknowledge the impressive gains women have made over the last century against genuine sexism and recognize that the mop up operation in 2013 (at least in the United States) is more about managing the assholes and idiots in the world than it is about old-timey sexism.

For the three women who read this blog, I'll tell you a secret about how men think. If I am your boss's boss, and you tell me your direct boss is being a sexist, my skepticism alarm goes off because the label so often gets misused. But if you tell me your boss is being an asshole, complete with examples, or you say he's incompetent at his job because he ignores qualified job candidates, I start considering his replacement. Your choice of labels can make a big difference.

 
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In my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, I talk about using systems instead of goals. For example, losing ten pounds is a goal (that most people can't maintain), whereas learning to eat right is a system that substitutes knowledge for willpower.

Expanding on that point, let's say you have a choice between pasta and a white potato. Assume you enjoy both foods equally and you want to choose the best one for your waistline. Which do you pick?

I recently posed that question to a crowd of ninety senior managers at a huge tech company. About 88 of them chose the potato. That's the wrong answer because pasta is only half as high on the glycemic index. The two people out of ninety who knew pasta was the better choice wouldn't need to use as much willpower later in the day to stay within a good diet range. Studies have shown that if you use your willpower resisting one temptation you have less in reserve for the next. The systems approach to weight management is to gradually replace willpower with knowledge, e.g. knowing pasta is better than a potato. (The book describes more ways to replace willpower with knowledge in the diet realm.)

Here's another example. Going to the gym 3-4 times a week is a goal. And it can be a hard one to accomplish for people who don't enjoy exercise. Exercising 3-4 times a week can feel like punishment - especially if you overdo it because you're impatient to get results.  When you associate discomfort with exercise you inadvertently train yourself to stop doing it. Eventually you will find yourself "too busy" to keep up your 3-4 days of exercise. The real reason will be because it just hurts and you don't want to do it anymore. And if you do manage to stay with your goal, you use up your limited supply of willpower.

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov's dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it - no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That's a system.

By the way, it is only in the past few years that you could replace willpower with knowledge about diet and exercise and get a good result. That's because much of what science told us in those realms was wrong. When I was a kid, science told us to eat plenty of Wonder Bread. I think we have finally crossed the tipping point where following the recommendations of science will get you a good result.

One of the systems I use but didn't mention in the book is what I'm doing right now: blogging.

When I first started blogging, my future wife often asked about what my goal was. The blogging seemed to double my workload while promising a 5% higher income that didn't make any real difference in my life. It seemed a silly use of time. I tried explaining that blogging was a system, not a goal. But I never did a good job of it. I'll try again here.

Writing is a skill that requires practice. So the first part of my system involves practicing on a regular basis. I didn't know what I was practicing for, exactly, and that's what makes it a system and not a goal. I was moving from a place with low odds (being an out-of-practice writer) to a place of good odds (a well-practiced writer with higher visibility).

The second part of my blogging system is a sort of R&D for writing. I write on a variety of topics and see which ones get the best response. I also write in different "voices". I have my humorously self-deprecating voice, my angry voice, my thoughtful voice, my analytical voice, my half-crazy voice, my offensive voice, and so on. You readers do a good job of telling me what works and what doesn't.

When the Wall Street Journal took notice of my blog posts, they asked me to write some guest features. Thanks to all of my writing practice here, and my knowledge of which topics got the best response, the guest articles were highly popular. Those articles weren't big money-makers either, but it all fit within my system of public practice.

My writing for the Wall Street Journal, along with my public practice on this blog, attracted the attention of book publishers, and that attention turned into a book deal. And the book deal generated speaking requests that are embarrassingly lucrative. So the payday for blogging eventually arrived, but I didn't know in advance what path it would take. My blogging has kicked up dozens of business opportunities over the past years, so it could have taken any direction.

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.

There are obviously some special cases in which goals are useful. If you plan to become a doctor, for example, and you have the natural ability, then by all means focus. But for most of us, we have no idea where we'll be in five years, what opportunities will arise, or what we'll want or need by then. So our best bet is to move from a place of low odds to a place of better odds. That means living someplace that has opportunities, paying attention to your health, continuously upgrading your skills, networking, and perhaps dabbling in lots of different areas.

The systems vs. goals idea is only one through-thread of my new book, but readers and reviewers are consistently mentioning it as the thing they found most useful, saying it is both fresh and obvious at the same time. That's a rare combination.

I'm curious if any of you have systems you'd like to share?

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

 

 

 
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