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Failure Is the Secret to Dilbert Creator’s Success


If you’ve done time in a cubicle farm, you’re familiar with Dilbert, the flat-topped, curly-tie-wearing avatar of white-collar drudgery. But what you might not know is that his creator, cartoonist Scott Adams, failed a lot on the road to success.


(Photo Credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk]/Flickr)

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Adams explains that Dilbert was one of only many self-described “get-rich” schemes and day jobs he embarked upon over the years. Others included inventing a Velcro rosin bag for tennis players, an early internet startup called Webvan, and stints in the commercial loan industry and the restaurant business.

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All yielded valuable knowledge — loan officers are instructed not to lend money to people who seem too passionate about their businesses, and the restaurant business is hard, to name just two insights. But perhaps most usefully of all, his failures helped Adams realize that he’d have to define his own terms in order to be a success.

Controversially, those terms don’t include passion or goals. It was to “create, invent, write, or otherwise concoct something widely desired that would be easy to reproduce.” It sounds like a blueprint for a widget factory, but for Adams, it was the start of a popular cartoon, now available on mugs, calendars, and desk accessories at a store near you, as well as in your local paper.

But don’t try to mimic his success, if you want to make it. Adams writes:

“Beware of advice about successful people and their methods. For starters, no two situations are alike. Your dreams of creating a dry-cleaning empire won’t be helped by knowing that Thomas Edison liked to take naps. Secondly, biographers never have access to the internal thoughts of successful people. If a biographer says Henry Ford invented the assembly line to impress women, that’s probably a guess.”

To really be successful, especially as an entrepreneur, you’ll have to chart your own path. Just don’t be surprised if, looking back, there are a few rosin bags in with the Dilberts.

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What was your most successful failure? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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