Evil Plans: Success Is More Complex Than Failure

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Evil Plans is Hugh MacLeod’s crazy-hot new book of thoughts and drawings on the topic of bringing cool things…like your life…to life.

One part motivation, one part entrepreneurship, one part marketing, one part fun, all parts provocative raconteur, the book not only shares great ideas and insights, it entertains and engages along the way.

What Makes it Different?

One word—Hugh.

Ain’t nobody like him.

His take on the world, the richness of his stories, his willingness to share, his ability to educate in the form of story and, of course, his amazing art. For those still living under a Hugh-free rock, he draws mini-works of art on blank business cards and beyond, along with phrases that do everything from get you pissed beyond belief to snort-laughing and even crying.

Most importantly, they get you thinking and talking. And that’s a good thing.

There something about both the content and the format that gives it the ability to make a bee line past the filters and hit home.

Rather do a straight up review of the book, though, I’ve got something really cool for you guys today.

Hugh has been kind enough to share an exclusive excerpt from Evil Plans for our tribe only.



Adapted from Evil Plans by Hugh MacLeod by arrangement with PortfolioPenguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2011 by Hugh MacLeod.

Success Is More Complex Than Failure

Failure’s easy. Success isn’t.

RUDYARD KIPLING ONCE DESCRIBED TRIUMPH and Disaster as “two impostors.” The longer I stay in the working world, the more I start to understand what he means. What separates success from failure (and we all experience plenty of both in our lives) is a question I’ve thought about a lot over the years. One day, out of nowhere, the following line hit me:

“Success is more complex than failure.”

Think about it. Being a failure is a no-brainer. All you have to do is sleep till noon, get out of bed, scratch your crotch, have your morning visit to the bathroom, turn on the Star Trek reruns, help yourself to some breakfast (leftover pizza and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, Hurrah!), light up your first joint of the day, download some porn, and already you’re well on your way. Sure, a few inconvenient variables may enter the picture here and there to complicate an otherwise perfect day of fail—e.g., actually doing the work of figuring out who you can convince to lend you some money . . . that kind of thing. But for the most part, the day-to-day modus operandi of your average Mr. Fail is quite straightforward.

Being successful, however, is a whole different ball game. Breakfast meetings at seven a.m. Conference calls at midnight. Visiting twelve cities in five days. Fielding questions from a swarm of hostile journalists. Dealing successfully with an enraged, multimillion-dollar customer who’s screaming blood murder over something rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. Making sure there’s enough money in the bank to meet the payroll of your legions of highly paid, highly effective, highly talented employees. Hundreds of unrelenting issues to deal with, all day, every day. You get the picture.

Some people can handle complexity. They’re fine with that; they’re fine spending their whole lives on airplanes, in meetings, and reading spreadsheets. Which is OK—different strokes for different folks and whatnot. That being said, “simple” tends to make most people more content than “complex.” I think it’s just the way Mother Nature made us.


Go grab your copy of Evil Plans or stop by Hugh MacLeod’s Gaping Void.

Curious, too…

What do YOU think about Hugh’s take on success, failure and complexity?

[FTC Disclosure – Um, duhhhh. Of course those are affiliate links. How else do you expect me to buy new platform shoes for sxsw?!]

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24 responses

24 responses to “Evil Plans: Success Is More Complex Than Failure”

  1. Irina Avtsin says:

    Jonathan, thank you – great way to review a book!

  2. Thanks Jonathan. One MORE blog to read. 🙂

    Here’s one of the most important statements I read, “Some people can handle complexity. They’re fine with that…different strokes for different folks and whatnot.”

    Too often we measure ourselves against what works for others rather than what works best for us. Some people I know can’t “just handle” the complexity, they need and thrive on it. The better you can understand yourself – how you think and operate, the better you can craft a life that works for you. Not the life someone perscribes for you.

    Back to coffee, breakfast, and blog reading before diving into work for the day. My best to all of you.

  3. Jonathan, I chuckled with your description of failure – some days it doesn’t sound so bad…LOL! You are right on with the descriptions and so true – to succeed in life takes tenacity, perserverance, determination and a whole lot of passion for what you believe. To live in your TRUTH is to be a success and for some to live in limbo and with no direction may be their TRUTH for that time in their lives…
    In gratitude for your thoughts,

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  5. Marie davis says:

    I’m going to give this book a try!

  6. I think he makes great points here, but I also think that it matters whether or not people have been socialized to believe in themselves or believe they can achieve success. It would be interesting to hear his theory on WHY some people can handle complexity. It is their upbringing, education, genes, social structure, etc.? Good food for thought for sure.

  7. Courtney says:

    The last paragraph threw the excerpt all off – I’m not sure why he contrasted failure with success and then ended up stating that simple makes people more content, and implied that people who succeed have to spend all of their time in airports, meetings, etc. I don’t think success has to be that soul draining.

  8. Mary Lou says:

    Thanks for the exposure to what looks like a great book! I appreciate hearing about authors I don’t know and this looks like one I’ll take a look at, thanks Jonathan~

  9. I appreciate this post and others’ thoughtful comments. I think we all need all of the different folks doing different strokes. We have many failed people in this failed economy. Our economic leadership has failed us. The economy is the lifeblood of everything. Potheads aside, I think that lots of people have discovered that the GO-GO-GO and NEVER STOP WORKING life does not pay off. So they are re-evaluating their priorities and their desires. The lack of jobs and the lack of available capital has forced people to reflect on these things.

    Right now I know plenty of educated and accomplished people who are working hard and making little money. How? Some work is under the table. They get their needs met via growing food or helping others grow food, so groceries are free. They are house sitting or sharing, etc. And, guess what? They’ve come to realize that in many ways they are happier with their lives because it’s simpler. Perseverance and believing in oneself is always key, especially when an economy is turned on its head and the mainstream is being left out.

  10. wendy reese says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how we define success and how much of that is influenced by media and society. I think when we are passionate about what we do, even the complexity can bring great joy, but that passion drives us to find the simplicity. I think few people are taught how to best approach the complexity…or the simplicity that lies on either side. Great book review.

  11. Tom Bentley says:

    And I thought I was the only guy who had pizza and Jack Daniels for breakfast.

    Hugh’s stuff is always provocative, but I wonder if the excerpt didn’t get to any material that might address how some complexity is quite stimulating, and has nothing to do with stultifying meetings or stale spreadsheets. Working on a complex writing project, for instance, can generate energy, rather than dissipate it.

    Now I have to get back to that J.D….

  12. Actually I think Success is easy to deal with, its failure that is tough.
    He describes failure as lack of trying. I don’t agree. That is not failure, to fail you need to aim for something and not achieve it. Being a slob, drinking, doing drugs is not failure, since that person didn’t commit to anything to start with.

    I think failure is aiming for a goal and not achieving the goal. Failure is often seen as a bad thing but in fact it’s the only way we have to learn anything. Any artist, professional athlete, or writer will tell you they fail everyday. They aim for perfection and fail.

    The tough part in failure is actually being able to learn from it and keep on going.

  13. Rob says:

    I believe balance plays some kind of role in all of this. I am also interested(Brandon)in why some can (do)and others can’t(don’t). Thanks, and make it a great day.

  14. Christopher says:

    I was a little confused about how “being busy” is taken as “being complex.”

    I agree, triumph and disaster are impostors because we all experience both. What do you choose to do in the face of each? Your actions define whether you are successful or a failure in light of each.

    Currently 700 pages into Atlas Shrugged, I’m now understanding that success is a matter of wanting something really badly and not letting anything get in your way.

    • LOVE Atlas Shrugged. I also enjoyed one of Rand’s other classics – The Fountainhead. So inspiring, if a little scary (for a single mom with many demands on her time) in terms of the level of focus and committment required to overcome all obstacles.

  15. Hey, Jonathan!

    TKS for the heads up. Have been a fan of Hugh’s for some time, but managed to miss this latest news.

    Question: Many of the descriptions talk about this being a book for people wanting to escape cubicle hell. I’ve already escaped, have been running a freelance business for 3 yrs, and am now looking to up my game. Is this book still for me? If it is, It’ll be on my Kindle tonight.

    TKS for your advice.

  16. TomC says:

    Anyone can handle the complexity. I’ve known drug addicts whose lives are much more complex than many “successful” people. (This guy should talk to some psychotherapists) And then there’s the idea that because someone works a lot, that makes them successful.

    There are also a lot of people who work very hard and “fail”.

    I don’t think most people are lazy. The majority just don’t know what to do. They can’t find their passion. They don’t believe in themselves. They’re scared. They’re tired. They don’t have help. They don’t know how to focus. They feel like success is for other people.

    Sure there are stories of people that had nothing and worked their way up, but these are told because they’re uncommon. And sometimes they are the product of trauma. We should all be so lucky that our trauma motivates us positively.

    For some people, “working for the weekend” is their idea of success. I don’t have any problem with that, for the most part. I respect that more than someone who neglects their family to work 8 to 8 to be “successful”.

    Then you have the people that just kind of fall into what they love. They work at what they do but they don’t do meetings at 7am and conference calls at midnight. If I were doing that I would call my life a complete failure. Again, this sounds like it was written in a 1980’s mindset about what success is.

    Complex is just a bunch of simple.

    If he’s saying that success and failure are impostors then I agree with him.

    Finally, he writes, ‘“simple” tends to make most people more content than “complex.”’ Not sure what he’s getting at here. Since complex equals success by his definition, I guess people striving for more simple lives are failures? Really? That’s the way Mother Nature made us? Failures? Really?

    I wouldn’t want to judge this book by this one tiny excerpt. Perhaps I’m taking it out of context. The guy is a cartoonist, so I don’t understand the “success is more complex than failure”. Sure if he’s a type A personality cartoonist, but are there really type A cartoonists?

  17. Just got back from picking up my copy. Commencing to devour…

  18. caitlyn says:

    Made me laugh. Different complexity strokes for different folks….

    When my husband, son, and daughter-in-law and I all lived together plans would have to be made pretty regularly. (Often Evil Plans if I had my way!) My son and I thrive on complexity. We were never satisfied with a plan until all options had been discovered, considered, and as far as possible synthesized into one beautiful, artistic plan.

    My husband & daughter-in-law, who love us but do not share our DNA, tried to participate in the early days but, eventually, one of them would be muttering, “Pick one. Just pick one. I DON’T CARE. JUST PICK A FREAKIN’ PLAN AND LET’S DO IT!” At some point, they realized that my son and I didn’t really care if they participated in the deconstruction-reconstruction process as long as they were willing to play, “Pick one,” when we had created a couple of ultimate choices full of complexity and many moving parts. Usually, the plans were horrifying to these highly intelligent simplicity seekers but as long as we were driving my husband and my son’s wife were along for the ride.

    My tombstone (says my husband) is going to say, “or”. As in we could… or…. or…. or… or….

  19. Hmmmm. I have to say I found the excerpt a bit meandering and unfocused, which is precisely the opposite of the tight and punchy ‘Ignore Everybody’. And it seems to overreach in its attempt to be provocative – but in fact it actually fails to really challenge anything, because the definition of success he outlines here is so hackneyed and stereotypical.

    In my book, both failure and success are vastly more complex concepts than a simplistic ‘being rich and owning companies and flying business class and having employees equals successful, being an unemployed one-dimensional slob is failure’ kind of thing.

    At the same time, the *experience* of success or failure can be as complex or as simple as you like, depending on what you set out to do or be. To me the ‘successful’ life this excerpt presents sounds like a living hell, and I would not consider achieving it a success – but others might think that kind of life was the cats pyjamas, so failing to achieve it would constitute failure. Different strokes, indeed.

    If simplicity ‘feels better’ to most people, I think we should consider the possibility that really achieving it might be a better measure of success than outward complexity, busy-ness, responsibility and stress. At the same time, we need to recognize that for most people, really achieving simplicity is a very complex endeavour – for all sorts of reasons, some practical and some psychological. So it goes…

    • TomC says:

      I think I’m confused by the excerpt because I disagree with so much of it. Now that I have had a day to churn in my subconscious I can only come to the conclusion that the excerpt is intended to get people to respond against it.

      And to that point, it was a success, because I really enjoyed some of the posts. In fact, the responses are the part worth reading.

  20. Andrea says:

    The excerpt is brilliant in that if you start with the thought that failure and success are as Rudyard Kipling described as “two impostors”, then you, or I, can’t possibly know one from the other.

    Failure is, in fact, the most complex feeling. It moves the heart from the inside out and back in again. Failure designs apologies, creates paradigm shifts; failure moves thought, imagines hope and provokes change.

    Success is easy, and shall I say simple. Anyone can make things happen, but to make things work is another dynamic.

  21. William King says:

    I will little disagree with the author with the way he has described a life of the successful person. Successful person is not the one who is living a corporate life. For me, every person is successful who have a goal in life and this goal is not about making money it is about achieving excellence in the field of his interest. Who knows the value of time and how to utilize it. But, I will must say weather its fail weather its success a successful person does not become disheart but he actually learns from both of them but a looser have nothing to do with both of them because a failure life is much miserable than the successful person(failure can be very rich and the successful can be mediocre).