How To Know Your Product Will Succeed

    People often ask me if it is possible to use the tools of persuasion to predict which types of products or businesses will succeed. I’ll tell you a trick for doing just that. But keep in mind that this is NOT backed by any studies or science as far as I know. This is based on my experience alone, and it is subject to all the usual biases. I recommend looking for the pattern I’m about to describe in your own life to see how often it predicts winners. You might be surprised how well it works.

    I’ve started dozens of businesses if you count the ones that died before they even got named. And that experience has given me a fairly reliable pattern for predicting which types of products will succeed. At least I hope it is reliable. So far it has been spot-on. The pattern is this:

    Look for unexpected positive physical action from potential customers.

    I’ll have to give you several examples before you can see what I mean. 

    When Dilbert first appeared in newspapers in 1989 it was not a success. It appeared in fewer than a hundred newspapers and didn’t grow much for the first several years. With syndicated comic strips, that sort of slow uptake and modest demand almost always predicts a slow decline to failure. My syndication company at the time (United Media) moved their marketing focus to newer comics and left me to fend on my own.

    And fend I did. I started running my email address between the panels of the comic. This was when email was still so new that most people didn’t even have it. My inbox exploded. The number of people sending me email was far beyond what made sense for a failing newspaper comic. The email response was unexpected, and it required physical action from the sender. As you probably know, Dilbert went on to be one of the biggest comic properties in history.

    As Dilbert grew in popularity, people started emailing to say they were sorting my comics into themes and using photocopies and glue to create their own physical books with chapters for each topic. Literally dozens of people emailed to say they were doing this exact thing. They said they would love to buy a book of this type from me if I also added some text to go with the comics. This type of reaction was unexpected and it required physical action. I designed my first non-fiction book, The Dilbert Principle, exactly the way the fans asked me to do it. The book went on to become a number one New York Times best-seller.

    After I got rich with Dilbert, I decided to create a business that would benefit the world so I could give something back and be a good citizen. I thought I could engineer a food product that was convenient and tasty and had all the nutrients one would need for the entire day. I invested millions and worked on the product for years. It was called the Dilberto, a frozen burrito brimming with vitamins, minerals, protein and complex carbs. Lots of people said it was a good idea. Some even said they loved the product. 

    But no one ever did anything unexpected and physical. They just bought the product and ate it, as expected. And not often enough. It never took off. Eventually I closed the business.

    I experienced a similar reaction to my earlier start-up, Calendartree.com. The product solved an important problem in scheduling, and thousands are using it today. But no one did anything unexpected and physical because of it. They just used it the way we expected. But not often enough for us to someday monetize it.

    More recently I co-founded WhenHub.com. It does everything CalendarTree does but it is an order of magnitude larger in scope and features. WhenHub is a way to create and share interactive visualizations of any events over time. And the related WhenHub app is like the Uber app without the Uber car – a way to watch people approach a meeting on a map. WhenHub is already generating unexpected and physical action. Specifically, people I have never met have been contacting me via social media and asking if they can invest.

    That doesn’t happen for most startups. It certainly didn’t happen with CalendarTree. This sort of reaction is unexpected and it requires physical action to contact me. We have also been contacted by companies that want us to add some feature so they can use it internally. That’s not normal either. Based on the initial public reactions that are both unexpected and physical, WhenHub should succeed.

    I’ve also started a new book that will tell the story of how I used persuasion techniques to be the most accurate political pundit of the last election. At least a hundred people have asked me to write a book of that type. That type of reaction hasn’t happened since i wrote The Dilbert Principle. This too is a good sign. (My 2017 is looking great.)

    The reason I call this a persuasion-related prediction is that it doesn’t involve facts or reason. Prediction-wise, I don’t care if someone thinks my product is both useful and a good value. I’m happy about that, but it doesn’t predict anything. I need to see people doing things that are so unexpected that it borders on irrational. That’s a good indicator. Facts and reason are not.

    But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. If you are involved in some sort of new product or business, ask yourself how people are already reacting to it. If all they are doing is complimenting you on your idea, or perhaps sharing some links on social media, that doesn’t predict success. But if people are asking to bring a friend to see your product, or offering to invest, or using the product in some new and unexpected way, you might have something there. Look for the unexpected and physical reactions to predict your product’s fate.

    My book that talks about this topic in one chapter is here.

The Time I Scared a Security Guard by Being an Old White Guy

    The other day I was walking through a big hotel in San Diego, on my way to give a keynote speech for a corporate event. I was the only person at the conference without an ID badge and I wondered how hard it would be to talk my way past security.

    I figured it would help that a life-size photo of me as the keynote presenter was sitting in the hallway by the entrance to the conference. My plan was to wait for security to stop me (if they even noticed) then point to the poster and breeze right in.

    An alert security guard picked me out of the crowd and stopped me on my approach. I smiled and introduced myself as the keynote speaker, pointing to my life-sized photo as evidence.

    That didn’t work. 

    I could tell that the guard had specific instructions to not let ANYONE in without a badge. And he would need to leave his post to check on me, which was not an option. What to do?

    There was no real problem here. All I had to do was text my contact, who was probably a hundred feet away, and he would take me in. And I was plenty early, so time wasn’t an issue. I was all smiles and understanding. Perfectly patient. I understood the guard needed to do his job and was happy to let him. 

    I have never seen such a frightened employee. He was clearly afraid of losing his job. Somehow my carefree attitude had scared the bejeezus out of him.

    I think I know why.

    As a younger man, I was dubious that my maleness and my whiteness were conferring an advantage. I did not have the option of viewing the world through the eyes of others, and from my own vantage point I saw no special treatment for YOUNG white men. You can argue convincingly that I was blind to my advantage. But my point is that whatever advantage I had was never obvious to me in day-to-day dealings. I will admit to thinking the whole white-guy advantage was overblown.

    Then I got older.

    I have learned from experience that no one wants to fuck with a 58-year old white guy who speaks with confidence.

    When I was in my twenties, people probably assumed I was a powerless member of society, and they would have been right. The only tools I had at my disposal were my inexperienced mind and my manly muscles that I was not allowed to use in business settings. I was no threat to anyone, and no immediate benefit to anyone. My memory is that people treated me that way, i.e. like dog shit. All the time.

    Now fast-forward to my current age and imagine what this security guard saw coming at him.

    Several hours before a big speech I begin a process that will focus all of my energy into a one-hour block of my day. I’m in a great mood, because I enjoy speaking, but my intensity is probably palpable. And I have a confident manner in general, whether I feel that way or not. (Yeah, I know it isn’t always a good thing.)

    I have realized over time that when a white male my age talks with confidence, people assume he must be a CEO of something, or important in some way. And everyone assumes that guy has weapons.

    They are right. Thanks to experience, I know how to get people fired if I need to. I can send lawyers after people if necessary. I know what buttons to push and when. I know how to negotiate, persuade, threaten, and scare. I know how to get inside someone’s head and turn them inside out. I have connections. I have experience. I have resources.

    In a word, I’m dangerous.

    At my current age, I feel my white-guy advantage kicking in all the time. People treat me with deference and respect even if they don’t know what I do for a living. As soon as I open my mouth, people start worrying that I might be the boss of something important because of how I look and act.

    The security guard eventually waved me through, but he was literally shaking by the time he decided that doing what I wanted him to do was the best way of keeping his job. And I got that just by being polite and patient. He still didn’t want to take a chance.

    I’m wondering if my experience is common. I assume age confers advantages to all demographic groups. Have you found that to be true in your experience?

    In Top Tech Blog, Google is looking to use radar to detect hand motions of users. This is part of what I call the upcoming Age of Magic, in which we all act like Harry Potter and control our environments with hand motions and incantations (voice commands).


    “This is an amazing book. Especially if you have an analytical mind.” – B. Travis

Knowledge as a Financial Asset

    If someone offered you $100,000 to take a class for a few weeks, would you do it? I believe most of you would, assuming there is nothing terrible about the class itself.

    But if I change the offer to say you have a 30% chance of making $100,000, would you take the class then? You should, if you need the money and you are rational. But ideally you would find a bunch of classes you could take that all have the same odds. If you take every one of the classes that have a 30% chance of giving you $100,000, one class at a time, your odds of eventually getting the $100,000 are good.

    Investors know that diversifying a portfolio is the smart way to go. But does diversification have the same benefits when applied to learning? I think it does, because knowledge acts like a financial asset.

    I have always looked at learning as money. I evaluate a topic for its economic potential, now and in the future. I have never taken a calligraphy class, for example, because in my case I don’t see how it would ever provide an economic return.

    But years ago I did take the Dale Carnegie course to learn now to become a better public speaker. When combined with my other skill sets it probably gave me a 30% chance of earning an extra $100,000 over my career no matter what path I took. Within any group, the best public speaker often bubbles up to a leadership position.

    I also took classes in my twenties to learn hypnosis. Trust me when I say that understanding hypnosis (and better understanding human minds) is worth more than $100,000 over your lifetime. 

    During my corporate career I signed up for a two-day class on business writing. I didn’t know it at the time, but business writing is almost the same as humor writing. In both cases you leave out the useless words and get to the point. That class was easily worth $100,000 to me because I would have used that skill no matter my career path. And it makes a BIG difference in how people view you.

    My point is that some types of learning are so valuable that they should be ranked by their economic potential. In California, for example, being fluent in Spanish and English is probably worth more than $100,00 over a career, on average.

    Knowing how to do A-B testing on a website is probably worth $100,000 a year.

    Learning how to eat right and exercise right is probably worth more than $100,000 because we know that a person’s appearance influences opportunities. As a bonus, you will be healthier, more energetic, and smarter if you are healthier. That stuff can translate into economic value over time.

    I could go on, but you get the point: Knowledge can be ranked by economic potential. And doing so would change how people approach the “extra” learning after formal schooling is done. 

    It seems to me that one could create a software service that would evaluate what skills you already have, along with your location, age, and other relevant economic factors, and create a learning plan that would give you the greatest odds of higher income later.

    [Side note: This is a system, as opposed to a goal, because you are improving your odds without knowing where it leads.]

    This way of thinking is why I almost never read fiction. One could make an argument that all reading is good for you, and any sort of mental stimulation can translate into economic potential. But I can’t justify reading something with low economic potential when I could be reading something that has greater odds of being useful with my skill set.

    My hypothesis is that successful people see knowledge as a financial asset and manage it that way. They create portfolios of knowledge that make sense as a whole. You could call that a systems-view. 

    People who are struggling (per this hypothesis) are more likely to see the world in terms of goals. A goal-oriented person would not take a class that has unpredictable future benefits when that time could be used instead to focus on a specific goal.

    So I put the question to you. Do you see learning as a system in which you create a diversified portfolio of knowledge that makes sense in your situation?

    Or do you learn what you need when you need it? Let’s call that a goal-oriented approach.

    In Top Tech Blog

    A new Internet of Things chip from Intel, an arm band that replaces your mouse, and soon your screen and camera will be talking behind your back. See it all here.

    If you want to learn more about systems versus goals, and find out why reviewers are saying it has changed their lives, find it here.

Flag Hill: Goal or System?

    Dateline: February 19, 2015. Sunol, CA. 

    My third attempt to reach the top of Flag Hill.

    Background: I tried hiking to the top of this hill in mid 2014. Halfway up I was exhausted and defeated. My younger, better-looking hiking partner was not impressed. She could have sprinted to the summit while texting at the same time. With my manhood in tatters, I slunk down the hill. But I vowed to someday come back and beat Flag Hill. Now it was personal.

    A few months later I tried Flag Hill again but my timing was bad. The bridge to the trail was under construction. So I aborted.

    Last week, with my brother Dave in town, I decided to take a third attempt at Flag Hill. I had been focusing my recent workouts on cardio and lower-body strength. It was time to see if the preparation made a difference.

    Here’s a 22-second video of my training progress on a different hill.

    This is the parking lot at the base of Flag Hill and other trails. My brother is the prime photographer for the day. He’s the tiny pink blob. Above him and to the left is the peak to which we are heading on foot from here.


    The bridge has been repaired since my last failed attempt. So far, so good.


    They still have this warning sign that mother nature intends to kill me one way or another before I leave Flag Hill. But I wasn’t going to let a rattlesnake bite or a rabid mountain lion slow me down. Today was my day.


    It appears there are over seven hundred ways to get lost on these trails. And no phone service. Eek.


    Starts out easy. But this is a fake-out.


    Okay, getting steep now. The trip to the summit is only 1.3 miles but because of the grade we will need to take lots of rest breaks that we will call photo opportunities.


    The rolling foothills are easy. The hard part is in the distance.


    Wow, did we pick a good day. (Apologies to all you folks in snow.) February is rarely this warm in Northern California, and you don’t get many days of green grass. This will be mostly brown in a few months. The area had been fogged-in and cold just an hour before this picture.

    This is the view looking down toward where we started.


    Still looking down the hill.


    Now straight ahead to Flag Hill (below) in the distance.


    The trails are so beautiful you think you are in some sort of fantasy world.


    Even the trees look other-worldly today.


    This rock, below, is at about the halfway point. The first time I hiked this far I was exhausted and had to turn back. This time I had specifically trained for hills, and we paced it better. Apparently the preparation worked because I wasn’t tired at this point.


    Some of the trails are what I imagine I would find on a Peruvian mountain.


    There it is. 

    My nemesis.

    Flag Hill.

    This is the hard part.


    Phew! The steepest part is over. But not done yet.


    A few minutes later a very good day became a spectacular one. 


    Flag Hill, I own you now, buddy. But the rest of you are welcome to visit 🙂

    In the end it wasn’t terrifically challenging because I was better prepared this time and we paced things well. But it sure felt good to finish.

    Some of you will be quick to point out that my quest to climb Flag Hill looks a lot like a goal, and I am the guy who wrote a book saying goals are for losers; systems are better. Allow me to explain.

    Goals make sense for simple, near-term objectives, such as hiking a particular hill. But for complicated and unpredictable situations, such as the arc of your professional career over decades, a system is better, in part because you are unlikely to keep the same priorities and goals over that period. When the environment changes, as it always does, you will change too. A better strategy for the long run is to improve your market value in a variety of ways and hope luck doesn’t ignore you forever.

    My goal of hiking Flag Hill to the top bothered me every day from the moment I set it. It made me feel like a loser for months. That’s why I normally avoid goals. But this one came to me organically when I failed in front of someone I cared about. That made it personal. I had to check it off the list to feel right. 

    I get that way sometimes.

    Luckily I also have a system that involves daily exercise and adding variety to the mix when I can. So in this case my somewhat toxic goal of climbing Flag Hill was a convenient focus for my exercise system, and in that sense it worked.

    I am not eager to set another goal for myself. But I sure am glad this one worked out.



    Check out three new writers for this blog (on their own pages):


    Dilbert on Facebook
    @ScottAdamsSays (my dangerous tweets)
    @Dilbert_Daily (Dilbert-related tweets)
    My book on success: “I feel the best I have ever felt after reading a book.” –  Puget Sound Paralegal  (Amazon 5-star review Feb 20, 2015)

Introducing New Writers!

    This might be the most exciting day in the history of Dilbert.com. I am delighted to introduce three new writers who will be blogging on these pages. Check them out:

    Vivian Giang

    Vivian Giang will be debunking myths about success (my favorite!) and other topics of interest.

    Bio: Vivian Giang is a freelance journalist who covers organizational psychology, leadership, gender issues, and whatever else she finds interesting for Fast Company, Marie Claire, Fortune, Slate, among others. 

    Twitter: @vivian_giang

    LinkedIn: Profile


    Read Vivian Giang’s blog here.

    Top Tech – by Paul Worthington

    A daily digest of carefully curated news on the most interesting or important innovations in technology, by Paul Worthington. Look for 1-3 briefs every weekday.

    Bio: Paul Worthington is a technology reporter and consultant, specializing in photography and digital imaging. He started at InfoWorld in 1989. He now hosts the annual Future Imaging Summit, and initiated the new imaging industry Visionary Awards in 2015.

    Paul reports on photography here,  and is on Twitter @PaulRobertW.


    Read Top Tech here.

    Berkeley Start-Up ReviewBy Tamra Teig

    Tamra Teig will spotlight the most interesting start-ups that have some connection to UC Berkeley. Berkeley is second only to Stanford in the number of start-ups coming from alums. You’ll see some fascinating companies in the spotlight. 

    I earned my MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley many moons ago, and I’m involved with the Berkeley Angel Network, so I have some connections to help Tamra find the interesting stories.

    Bio: ​Tamra Teig has a degree in journalism and has been a writer and marketing communications consultant for over 20 years. While her earlier work was focused on magazine and newspaper features and newsletters, the majority of her career has been devoted to business development through corporate communications and digital marketing content. 

    Read the Berkeley Start-Up Review here.

    Each of these blogs will evolve over time based on reader responses. I would love to hear your comments. 

    By way of background, several months ago I offered to make space available on Dilbert.com for other artists. I got more submissions than I expected. These are the three writers that I think fit best with the audience here. If this works out, I will be looking to grow the idea.

    What do you think?

    Quick links:


Do Open Networks Boost Your Odds of Success?

    Every time I hear of a study suggesting that doing (whatever) is important for success, I ask myself if the authors interpreted the correlations correctly.

    And I rarely think they did.

    Take for example this recent article describing how people with “open networks” are far more successful than those with “closed networks.” In this context, it means that the more new ideas you are exposed to, the more likely you are a success.

    That interpretation makes perfect sense to me. Seeing lots of new ideas is probably a good thing in most situations.

    But another interpretation is that the folks with the personalities and resources to succeed are more likely to also have open networks. It doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other. 

    The good people manufacturing mature products, such as concrete, probably don’t see many new ideas. And I would guess they don’t attract the world’s most ambitious and talented employees to their industry because the upside potential feels limited. 

    My ambitious personality ruled out any field with no upside potential. So I cartoon, write, and work on my Internet start-up. Each of those career choices benefit from open networks and a high flow of new ideas. I choose my projects for their upside potential; the open networks just come with the deal.

    To be fair, the article says open networks “predict” success as opposed to causing it. (“Predict” sounds like language used by the people doing the studies and it does not assume causation.) But the article hints at causation because it treats the correlation as important.

    My observation is that smart people tend to gravitate toward jobs that have a lot of new ideas swirling around. When smart people succeed at higher rates than others, do we need to drill too deeply to understand why?

    Scott Adams

    Twitter: @ScottAdamsSays