Scott Adams: The Dilbert Comic Creator – What Got You There with Sean DeLaney

Check out the What Got You There Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Systems > Goals – here’s why:
    • Committing to completing a specific goal often blinds you to other opportunities
    • With a goal, you feel as if you’re in a continuous state of failure until you achieve it
  • Put yourself in situations where luck finds you
  • “The best way to learn how to do something is to do it wrong” – Scott Adams
    • “If you do something wrong in front of other people and they know how you shouldn’t have done it, they’re going to tell you, and they won’t charge you for it. You can get all the free advice you want by doing bad work in public.”
  • “If you’re creating art of any kind… if it doesn’t move someone’s body, you’re not done yet” – Scott Adams
  • Don’t force your creations
    • “I don’t try to create anything that I have to push. If I feel myself pushing or forcing it, I know it’s not going to work.” – Scott Adams
  • Create things that you’re pulled too 
    • “If you can find an idea that pulls you, then all of the energy you’d normally have to muster on your own to put into it is unnecessary. The project actually gives you energy. It’s feeding you at the same time you’re building it.”Scott Adams
  • Turn your ego (which is usually your enemy) into a tool by dialing it up when confidence is needed, and dialing it down when it serves as a distraction
  • Become aware of your blind spots by exposing yourself to concepts from a variety of different fields (psychology, history, economics, etc.)

Books Mentioned

Intro

The Simultaneous Sip

  • Before every one of his daily Periscope sessions, Scott and his viewers have a “simultaneous sip” of their beverage of choice
    • Scott’s preferred drink: coffee
    • How did it originate?
      • “It caught on, and I just went with it. One of the things that you learn as a creator is that your audience tells you what the product is.” Scott Adams
  • Scott, in addition to be a prolific creator, also has an MBA
    • “So, I tend to listen to the audience more than the average artist” – Scott Adams

Scott’s Daily Routine

  • Scott wakes up without an alarm clock, usually between 4 and 6 AM
    • On this particular morning, he woke up at 4 AM
  • Then, he makes his coffee while reading the news headlines
  • He then gets ready to do his daily live Periscope (which takes place at 7 AM west coast time)
  • “If you can get to the point where you have some control over your schedule, you can match your energy state with the type of tasks you’re doing” – Scott Adams
    • Scott is by far the most creative in the morning (thus he gets up early) – “Around noon, my brain stops working in any creative way” 
      • Because of this, Scott does most of the random items on his to-do list in the afternoon
  • Scott has found that if he has to do a bunch of drawings for Dilbert, it’s best if he’s exercised that day (he tries to exercise every day around noon)
    • “It calms me down, and gets my body nice and relaxed; that’s the perfect energy state for mindlessly drawing stuff” – Scott Adams

Systems > Goals

  • This below originates from Scott’s book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
  • “Goals can be limiting” Scott Adams
    • Why focus on one goal in a world of infinite possibilities?
    • If you focus on one goal with the intent to achieve it, there’s a good chance something else pops up along the way that you miss because you’re so narrow-minded
      • In this way, goals blind you to other opportunities
  • “The other problem with goals is that you feel as if you’re in a continuous state of failure until you achieve your goal” – Scott Adams
  • A system is something you do that improves your odds of success
    • Here are a few examples:
      • Getting a college degree sets you up for career success
      • Exercising every day sets you up for optimal health
    • If you follow the system, that’s success in and of itself

Scott’s Systems for Creating Dilbert

  • Scott has been working on the comic strip for 30 years now
  • “One of my systems is that I continually look for ways to cut corners” – Scott Adams
    • Scott was one of the first cartoonists to start drawing on a computer – he uses the Wacom Cintiq
    • Scott also created a font out of his own handwriting, which turned out to be a huge time-saver
    • “In 1,000 different ways, I continually chip away at anything that’s inefficient until it’s efficient”

Scott’s Career Progression and the Rise of Dilbert

  • From age 6 to 11, Scott wanted to be a world-famous cartoonist
    • (After turning 11, Scott began to realize the odds of becoming a famous cartoonist were quite low. So, he mostly put this dream on the back burner until his late 20s.)
  • Scott studied pre-law/economics for his undergrad, but didn’t find it all that interesting
    • He obtained his MBA at U.C. Berkeley 
  • After finishing school, Scott became a banker for a brief period before getting a job as a manager at a phone company
    • In his spare time, Scott began trying to get a few comics published in newspapers/magazines
      • This certainly was NOT easy, especially in the pre-internet age
      • But, with some luck, and after MANY rejections, things started taking off. Scott continued working at his day job for a few years before making the switch to work on Dilbert full-time.
  • “If you don’t have a channel to your customer, you don’t have a business model” Scott Adams
    • Dilbert was pretty unpopular for the first few years, but, after putting his email address in the comic strip, Scott received a few pieces of advice from readers telling him to include more business/office-type scenarios – then, boom!

Make Luck Come to You

  • “You can manage luck, but only indirectly”Scott Adams
    • Scott grew up in Windham, NY – “Had I stayed there, the odds of getting lucky were pretty low”
      • So, Scott packed his bags and moved to San Francisco, where luck had a strong chance of finding him 
  • “The best way to learn how to do something is to do it wrong” – Scott Adams
    • Why? – It attracts free help
      • “If you do something wrong in front of other people and they know how you shouldn’t have done it, they’re going to tell you, and they won’t charge you for it. You can get all the free advice you want by doing bad work in public.”
    • How did Scott personally apply this?
      • By putting his email address in the Dilbert comic strips, people began telling him what was/wasn’t working
      • When he started doing his daily Periscope sessions, comments started rolling in about how he could improve
  • “Anytime you can go out there and mix it up, make some mistakes, embarrass yourself, create some action, meet some people… anything that’s energy, as long as other people are exposed to it, the odds of luck finding you go way up.”Scott Adams

Scott’s Creative Process for Dilbert

  • Every comic starts with an idea for the topic
    • Scott gathers these ideas by sending out a tweet, asking his followers for examples about how life at the office is bothering them
  • Scott then screens the ideas. He looks for:
    • Situations/problems that he’s personally experienced
    • Things that multiple people are experiencing
  • Then, Scott selects which Dilbert characters to involve in the strip
  • Next, he starts writing. With each situation, Scott will ask himself:
    • “What would happen in the real world here? Because this is a comic world, what would be the most extreme or ridiculous thing that could happen?”
      • “I usually try to keep a kernel of truth; that’s what makes people attracted to it in the first place. Then I try to exaggerate.” – Scott Adams
    • “If you’re creating art of any kind… if it doesn’t move someone’s body, you’re not done yet. People have to do more than just read it and say, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good.’ I want somebody to cut it out and put it on their fridge; that’s their body moving. I want somebody to send it to somebody else in an email attachment… I want somebody to laugh, cry, or snort, more than just a giggle in the chair.” Scott Adams
      • So, with each joke Scott writes, he reads it back to himself to see if he has a physical response – “If I don’t feel it physically, I’m not done”

What about writing books? How does Scott’s creative process differ?

  • It’s WAY easier to write content for an established universe, like Dilbert’s
    • With a book, it’s literally a blank page, and you can go anywhere
  • “I sit down, and I just start writing. I write poorly and quickly, and try to get ideas down and just look at them.” – Scott Adams
    • Then, Scott simply feels his way through, with a specific focus on dissecting the overall idea and the way it’s written/explained
  • For Dilbert, writing one joke a day is all it takes
    • But for a large book, MANY more humor points need to be hit (perhaps up to 5 jokes on one page)
      • “The degree of difficulty is extraordinary. There’s probably a reason you don’t see many cartoonists who also are authors.” – Scott Adams

Don’t Force It

  • “I don’t try to create anything that I have to push. If I feel myself pushing or forcing it, I know it’s not going to work.” – Scott Adams
  • Create things that you’re pulled too 
    • “If you can find an idea that pulls you, then all OF the energy you’d normally have to muster on your own to put into it is unnecessary. The project actually gives you energy. It’s feeding you at the same time you’re building it.” Scott Adams

Sample the Other Side

  • The below comes from Scott’s new book – Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America
  • If news outlets on both sides of the political divide report something that’s true, it probably is
    • “But, if only one of those two sides reports something as a fact, it almost never is… If you can’t get both of them to agree on a fact, it’s probably just an opinion.” – Scott Adams
    • This is a problem because many people only listen to news sources that they agree with
      • “If you can’t force yourself to at least sample the other side, you’re definitely in a bubble.”

Modulating the Ego

  • Here’s a quote from Scott in his new book: “A person who considers ego a reflection of self, instead of a tool that one can dial up or down as needed, has fewer pathways to success.”
    • “You need to have enough ego that you feel comfortable taking on challenges that could be embarrassing if you did them wrong, but also you want to have a cap on it, so you don’t seem obnoxious to other people.” – Scott Adams
    • “Your ego is your enemy. It’s not your friend, and it’s not who you are. Your ego is probably keeping you from that risk that might help you out. It’s keeping you from taking the chance of failure. If your ego is preventing you from any chance of failure, it’s your enemy.”Scott Adams
      • The goal: turn your enemy (your ego) into a tool by dialing it up when confidence is needed, and dialing it down when it serves as a distraction
    • “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people fail in business because they were making ego-based decisions.” – Scott Adams

Self-Belief

  • “I don’t remember any time in my life that I didn’t think I’d be wildly successful to the point of being both rich and famous. There’s no time I thought that wouldn’t happen.” – Scott Adams
  • Not everyone is like Scott, but most successful people seem to think similarly:
    • “They see the world as something that they can control. They believe they can change their own situation, and in doing so, change the world.” Scott Adams
      • “The people who tend to be unsuccessful believe that their fate is determined by events outside themselves.”
        • I.e., being born poor

Is there anything Scott wishes he spent more time on over the years?

  • Learning a second language, probably Spanish
  • Traveling
    • “I was busy. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to travel. I worked 7 days a week for most of my life. But I can tell something’s missing. When I interact with people who have more of a global experience, they’re different for it, and in a good way. They’ve seen more things and have a greater level of awareness in general.”Scott Adams

What are Scott’s superhuman skills?

  • His ability to withstand embarrassment
    • Good news: this is a skill you can learn
  • The skill of simplification (breaking down complex topics into simple rules)
    • “I’m a world-class simplifier” – Scott Adams

What does Scott hope readers take away from Loserthink?

  • That they escape, ever so slightly, from their own mental bubbles and see the world a bit more clearly
  • “The big innovation in this book, the simplification that brings it all together, is the observation that people can avoid the various traps of ‘loserthink’ if they have exposure to different fields” Scott Adams
    • “If you haven’t been exposed to the concepts in a variety of different fields, from psychology to economics to history, etc., you’ll have blind spots that you don’t know are blind spots”

Rapid Fire

  • The most impressive person Scott’s been around?
    • Naval Ravikant – Scott often refers to him as “the smartest person in the world”
      • “He knows more about more things than just about everybody”
  • Who does Scott think would make a great guest for Sean’s podcast?
  • When was the last time Scott was shocked by a performance?
    • After reading American Nations – “I recommend it… It’s an amazing book. It’s completely mind-expanding.”

Additional Notes

  • Scott was valedictorian of his high school class 
Bookmark
One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.