Dilbert, Passion and Goals

If you have ever read a Dilbert comic strip in the newspaper, then you probably know that the strip’s writer is Scott Adams. The strip has been wildly successful for nearly 3 decades, in part because many people think that Scott Adams is spying on their workplace and using the foibles of their office as inspiration for his work. His cynical view of workers versus management gives a brief, daily escape from the mundane of the workplace.

Yesterday I was skimming through some articles and I found a link to this one on Businessinsider.com


The headline: “‘Dilbert’ creator Scott Adams illustrates why ‘goals are for losers and passion is overrated’”, caught my eye. Being a passionate, goal-oriented person who is not a loser, I was curious to see what he had to say.

You can have a look at the article, and the sophomoric slide show that accompanies it. The first slide has the statement “You don’t need passion. You don’t need goals. You need simple systems that improve your odds.” I have had a look through the entire thing, and I have given myself a night of sleep to think about what Scott has to say, and I have reached the conclusion that when it comes to giving out advice on how to succeed, Scott needs to stick to drawing crooked-tied nerds.

The basic premise of the slide show is that passion is overrated, and that you don’t need passion to succeed. He looks at quotes by a number of successful people, such as Warren Buffet, Donald Trump and Richard Branson. Each of them has credited passion as a key to their success, and Adams pokes at them and says that clearly it takes something other than passion to succeed. In fact he posits that passion is “bullshit”, and is nothing more than the feeling you get when a project is succeeding. He then moves on to say “Maybe passion isn’t enough, just maybe success causes passion.”

If you haven’t guessed by my tone so far, I think Scott Adams is way off base. Of course passion isn’t “enough” to guarantee success. Success takes talent, dedication, hard work, sacrifice, and a bit of good luck. Typically it is the people who have some talent, and then work the hardest to apply that talent that succeed. In some fields, like entertainment or sports, luck plays a role as well. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time gives a person an opportunity to shine in a way that others may not, but in order for that person to be able capitalize on the opportunity, they must have already put in the hard work to turn their raw talent into a skill ready to shine forth.

I don’t think that Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Donald Trump, the recent winners of American Idol, or anyone else would ever say that the only thing you need to succeed is passion. That is a gross over simplification, and seeing their statements about the need for passion in such a way is superficial. I know that it takes far more than passion (or enthusiasm as I like to call it), to succeed. Simply having passion for something will not make you successful. But, I also know this. If you don’t have passion for something you cannot succeed at it.

Adams points out that many who are not successful (at least not in the overly-simplistic, and ridiculously narrow way he’s defined success), are also passionate. Of that there is no doubt. One can be wildly passionate about something, and even put in hours and years of sacrifice and sweat, and still not reach the pinnacle of success. And, if one only defines success as reaching the absolute peak, then yes, those people didn’t succeed. If the measure of success on American Idol is winning a season, then only one per year can do that. That measure would ignore the successes of people like Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken and so many others who used their opportunities on American Idol to propel their career.

Adams would counter and say that the vast majority of the thousands who audition for American Idol also had passion, and they still didn’t succeed, and he would be right.

It is true that passion alone cannot make one successful. Passion isn’t the sole reason why people succeed, but it is the catalyst that propels a talented person to apply those talents, make the sacrifices and put in the long days of hard work. Having passion doesn’t mean you will succeed, but lacking it almost certainly means you will fail.

Adams also attacks the idea of having goals, saying that they are for “losers”. He uses examples like “losing 10 pounds”, or “aiming for your boss’ job” as examples of goals that don’t make sense. He suggests that instead one needs to learn to be smarter about food choices, and make themselves more valuable in the workplace by adding more skills to their tool box as ways to become more successful. On that idea he is partially right. Simply setting a goal to lose weight or get a promotion is a good thing to do, but it won’t make those things happen. Again, Adams takes the overly simplistic view that people think merely setting the goal makes them come to fruition. Anyone who has read my work here, or has picked up a book on goal setting knows that it takes more than just setting the goal for it to happen. Once the goal is set, one has to set their mind and body to the tasks needed to make that goal a reality. Whether those tasks involve learning to make better food choices, or adding skills and abilities to increase my worth at work, it is the diligent work on the tasks that bring about the successes of reaching the goals.

Adams concludes by saying that success is about creating and maintaining systems that will increase your chances of success. Focusing on making customers happy, rather than increasing profits is an example he uses. And he pretty much stops right there. He doesn’t offer any thoughts on how to do that, or how to create any other systems to increase success.

So, if I were a passionless slacker who read this article and slide show, I could get to the end of it, sit well back in my chair, and say “See! Goals are for losers, man. That’s just the establishment trying to keep me down. It’s all BS! All I need is a good system, man.” And then I could let my mind wander to the next article on the internet that holds my limited attention for a few moments longer. Or, I could go off and read some comic strips. And, I would get myself exactly nowhere.

In the meantime, Scott Adams would be off somewhere cashing his check for his “wisdom”, and then he would likely set out, with great passion in his heart, to continue working hard at his career. He would continue to apply his enthusiasm to his talent and continue to create a product that is worthy of publication. I would bet good money that he’d even have some to do lists, and some short term goals to help keep himself on track along the way. Wait? What am I suggesting? Am I saying that Scott Adams might have passion and goals?

If you are looking for more depth on his views on passion and success, you can find them here. The interview is helping to promote his book on how to be successful. His theme is that passion isn’t important. Yet, when I read his answers, I see a person who had quite a lot of passion and enthusiasm. But, that’s just my opinion.

Today my reflection is on the value of passion and goals in life. Neither represent the sole keys to success, but without them I become nothing more than an aimless, dispassionate wanderer in life. And that is most certainly not who I want to be.

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