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Persuasion In A World Where Facts Don't Matter
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Trump talked about a Wall a lot, and commentators helped him by continually talking about it, even when they were criticizing him. That made voters think he was the strongest voice on immigration, and it also enabled him not to talk about a lot of other issues that he didn't know much about.
Trump ignores inconvenient facts. I know you don't want to believe this works in terms of persuasion, but it does. Most of these issues are fairly minor, and the details get flushed away by the next scandal d'jour. All that people remember is that he provided his reasons, he didn't apologize or back down, and his opponents called him a liar, as they always do.
We rem things that violate our expectations.
When Trump got elected, many people experienced extreme cognitive dissonance, bc the world wasn't working according to their personal expectation. That led them to generate multiple explanations for the win.
Concept of the 'talent stack' - if you can intelligently combine ordinary talents together you can create extraordinary value.
Using anchors works even with totally irrelevant cues. If trying to sell business for $5 mill, preface negotiations with story of a billionaire who paid $25 mill for a lux yacht. You always need to be the one to first intro a number, so the $25 mill serves a double purpose.
Trump is what I call a Master Persuader. That means he has weapons-grade persuasion skills. Based on my background in that field, I recognized his talents early. And after watching him in action during the election, I have to say that Trump is the most persuasive human I have ever observed.
President Trump carried those persuasion skills into the White House, where his supporters say he has gotten a lot done, and his critics say he hasn't. Supporters pointed to a decrease in illegal immigration, a strong stock market (at this writing), high consumer confidence, progress fighting ISIS, a solid Supreme Court nominee, and a stronger-than-expected foreign policy game. Critics saw "chaos" in the administration, slow progress on health-care reform, and maybe some kind of nefarious connections with Russia.
President Trump's critics (and mine) asked me how I could call the president a Master Persuader when his public approval levels were in the cellar. The quick answer is that low approval didn't stop him from winning the presidency. And according to his supporters, it didn't stop him from getting things done on the job. His persuasion skills, combined with the power of the presidency, were all he needed. Keep in mind that disapproving of Trump's style and personality is a social requirement for people who long for a more civil world. Effectiveness is a separate issue from persuasive skill.
But here's the fun part: I also believed that Trump-the Master Persuader-was going to do far more than win the presidency. I expected Trump to rip a hole in the fabric of reality so we could look through it to a deeper truth about the human experience. And he did exactly that.
But not everyone noticed. That's why I made it the theme of this book.
The common worldview, shared by most humans, is that there is one objective reality, and we humans can understand that reality through a rigorous application of facts and reason. This view of the world imagines that some people have already achieved a fact-based type of enlightenment that is compatible with science and logic, and they are trying to help the rest of us see the world the "right" way. As far as I can tell, most people share that interpretation of the world. The only wrinkle with that worldview is that we all think we are the enlightened ones. And we assume the people who disagree with us just need better facts, and perhaps better brains, in order to agree with us. That filter on life makes most of us happy-because we see ourselves as the smart ones-and it does a good job of predicting the future, but only because confirmation bias (our tendency to interpret data as supporting our views) will make the future look any way we want it to look, within reason.
What I saw with Trump's candidacy for president is that the "within reason" part of our understanding about reality was about to change, bigly. I knew that candidate Trump's persuasion skills were about to annihilate the public's ability to understand what they were seeing, because their observations wouldn't fit their mental model of living in a rational world. The public was about to transition from believing-with total certainty-"the clown can't win" to "Hello, President Trump." And in order to make that transition, they would have to rewrite every movie playing in their heads. To put it in simple terms, the only way Trump could win was if everything his critics understood about the true nature of reality was wrong.
Then Trump won.
That's what I mean by "ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe." Think of it as the moment your entire worldview dissolves in front of your eyes, and you have to rebuild it from scratch. As a trained persuader, I found this situation thrilling beyond words. And I was about to get a lot of company, once people realized what they were seeing.
I'll help you find the hole that Trump punched through the universe so you can look through it with me to the other side. Put a seat belt on your brain - you're going to need it.
“If you watched the entire election cycle and concluded that Trump was nothing but a lucky clown, you missed one of the most important perceptual shifts in the history of humankind. I'll fix that for you in this book."
Adams was one of the earliest public figures to predict Trump's win, doing so a week after Nate Silver put Trump's odds at 2 percent in his FiveThirtyEight.com blog. The mainstream media regarded Trump as a novelty and a sideshow. But Adams recognized in Trump a level of persuasion you only see once in a generation.
Trump triggered massive cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias on both the left and the right. We're hardwired to respond to emotion, not reason. We might listen to 10 percent of a speech - a hand gesture here, a phrase there - and if the right buttons are pushed, we decide we agree with the speaker and invent reasons to justify that decision after the fact.
The point isn't whether Trump was right or wrong, good or bad. Win Bigly goes beyond politics to look at persuasion tools that can work in any setting—the same ones Adams saw in Steve Jobs when he invested in Apple decades ago. For instance:
- If you need to convince people that something is important, make a claim that's directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration in it. Everyone will spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is and will remember the issue as high priority.
- Stop wasting time on elaborate presentation preparations. Inside, you'll learn which components of your messaging matter, and where you can wing it.
- Planting simple, sticky ideas (such as 'Crooked Hillary') is more powerful than stating facts. Just find a phrase without previous baggage that grabs your audience at an emotional level.
Adams offers nothing less than "access to the admin passwords to human beings." This is a must read if you care about persuading others in any field - or if you just want to resist the tactics of emotional persuasion when they're used on you.
Scott Adams, most famously known for the Dilbert Comic strips, wrote Win Bigly to teach about how persuasion plays a crucial role in Donald Trump's daily operations and political success.
And he is right; Trump is a master persuader. He knows how to command attention, establish a powerful frame, manipulate the media to his advantage, and put messages and themes inside your head that stick. Trump has made many mistakes throughout his candidacy and presidency, but he knows how to minimize the damage, survive, and adapt.
Scott Adams uses tons of examples and analysis throughout the book to describe why Trump's so damn good at persuasion. He discusses the constant mistakes of Hillary's campaign up until the point where they hired Robert Calidini, at which point you can start to learn from some of her campaign's successes as well.
There's a ton of commentary here on recent political events, particularly from a persuasion perspective. And there's a ton of useful information here in general that will help you expand your knowledge about marketing, politics, and psychology.
And throughout the book, Scott Adams sprinkles in many persuasion tips. Here are some particularly good ones:
People are likely to reciprocate favors. Do someone a favor now if you anticipate that they might help you in the future.
Persuasion is effective even if people recognize the technique. They can rationally understand they are being persuaded, but if they allow you to continue to persuade them, effectively deployed techniques will still work.(Case in point - $9.99 works much better than $10 even though we know it's a meaningless manipulation of the price.)
Display confidence (either real or faked) to improve your persuasiveness. You have to believe yourself, or at least appear as if you do, in order to get anyone else to believe.
It is easy to fit completely different explanations to the observed facts. Don't trust any interpretations of reality that aren't able to predict.
All of this is great advice. I will let you purchase and read the book to read all Adams' tidbits on persuasion.
Key Takeaways From Win Bigly
This book review will not give you all of the content of Win Bigly because there's simply too much to cover. Instead, I will mention most of the information that I found most important.
One key point throughout the book is that we are not rational more than 10% of the time, and that rationality is mostly just a mirage. We think we're more rational than this, but that's because our egos stop us from imagining that we are more irrational than we actually are.
We are only rational with small decisions, such as when to leave the house to go to work. When it comes to our beliefs, perceptions, and actions, we are driven by 'irrational' behavior. The divide between the rational and the irrational causes cognitive dissonance.
Adams gives a few 'tells' for when someone is experiencing cognitive dissonance, such as a mocking word or acronym coupled with an absurd absolute, or a mocking word or acronym combined with a personal insult much more aggressive than the situation warrants. Plenty of examples are scattered throughout the book. When you help people realize they have no rational reason for their beliefs, they hit you with these type of responses. Exposing this is a key to winning an argument.
Confirmation bias is an important concept as well, especially because everyone is guilty of it. Confirmation bias is basically when you automatically shut out any opposing information that doesn't fit your worldview. Learning about confirmation bias helped me identify my own moments of it and greatly helped me see it in others. It's important to understand this concept to escape your own echo chamber.
Another one of the more important concepts in this book is that of a 'filter.' Filters are basically the lens in which we see the world. Scott Adams discusses how we view the world through different filters, and that we don't need to logically understand the world to survive. We can do our best to define any filter into words; ie, a 'racism filter,' a 'persuasion filter,' etc, based on the defining traits of that filter.
This is an excellent takeaway point from this book, and a significant mindset shift on viewing and approaching human interaction. He makes the case that the filter we pick for reality should make us happy and predict the future well.
Another interesting takeaway is the thought that Trump intentionally misleads people in order to make a message stick. For instance, when he said that illegal aliens are 'murders, rapists, and some I assume are good people,' the statement is directionally true, but the extent of which is up for a huge debate.
The triggered debate makes the message stick in people's minds because they are tricked into believing the message must be important since it's under constant debate. This is truly expert level persuasion and marketing advice right here.
There's a lot more to learn from Win Bigly than just these takeaways. This book is loaded with wisdom, so fitting in too much would make this book review too long. I recommend you purchase and read the entire book to read the rest.
Favorite Quotes and Lessons:
As I've mentioned, Win Bigly is loaded with useful advice on persuasion. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
"When you communicate, you are usually trying to persuade, even if you don't see it that way."
This is an excellent point, and it really highlights the case for learning persuasion. Every time you communicate with someone you are trying to persuade them of something, whether you realize it or not. It may be overt persuasion, such as trying to negotiate a deal with them, or it may be covert persuasion such as internalized actions convincing a girl that you are a high-value man worthy of sex.
"The first thing you hear about a new topic automatically becomes an anchor in your mind that biases your future opinions."
I noticed this in the past but hadn't quite put into words. Remember a person where the first thing you heard about them was negative. Whether you believed it or not, you compare everything you know about this person with what you first heard about them. That first bit of information was a significant component of your first impression of them, and either consciously or subconsciously, everything you learn about them gets compared to it.
"If you want to see the world more clearly, avoid joining a tribe. But if you are going to war, leave your clear thinking behind and join a tribe."
This is some valuable insight into the tribal nature of humans. When you're part of a group, you look for reasons to support that group, and thus, you tend to become intellectually dishonest. Stay independent and learn to recognize your cognitive biases to be as honest as possible. However, if you need to fight for a cause, you want to join a group to maximize your chances of success and survival.
"Attach a product or message to people's aspirations to make it stick. People are attracted to energy."
More high-level marketing and branding advice right here. This is one of the many reasons why Make America Great Again was an excellent campaign slogan. More reasons why are mentioned in the book.
Neutral Observations and Criticisms
Despite all the great advice contained within, no book is perfect. Let's detail some neutral observations and criticisms of Win Bigly.
I personally question a lot of Scott Adams' political viewpoints. He's very liberal in some ways. I am personally not a liberal for countless reasons, namely because the ideology has been economically and ideologically dispelled, but that's an argument for another day.
Scott Adams does not claim to be an expert in politics. He often oversimplifies some of the politics mentioned. For example, he says "even critics of Trump called the move measured" while referring to the Tomahawk strike on Syria. That's definitely oversimplifying the criticism of the move; for instance, many people were calling Trump reckless and a war criminal, while the media was glad to see him take a neocon war-mongering approach.
At one point, Adams mentioned that Trump "looking like Hitler" began evaporating to many people after assuming office. I'd say this is wrong, because even though he became significantly less bombastic, the left intentionally polarizes everything and still finds any excuse to call him Hitler or a racist. That said, to a person who's politically somewhere in the middle, he does seem much more measured than he did on the campaign trail.
However, there's no need to focus on Adams' politics, since the book doesn't focus specifically on politics. It's still worth mentioning them since his political viewpoints and analysis are sprinkled into the book. Again, he admits he's no expert in politics.
Naturally, nothing is free of bias, and Scott Adams doesn't pretend to be entirely unbiased. Once he put his viewpoint out that Trump had a 98% chance of winning, his ego (or at least his public persona) was invested into the outcome of the election. Throughout the book, you can see where his decision making was affected at times by this prediction.
A more neutral observation is that Adams writes like a nerdy cartoonist who is perhaps a little too obsessed with his ideas on persuasion. But again, this is more of an observation as opposed to a criticism. Like a good marketer, hearing his repetitive statements on persuasion helps drive home the points even further.
I think Adams could have gone into more detail about why exactly persuasion is not effective at times. He does touch upon the issue from time to time, just not in any significant detail that I can recall from the book.
Otherwise, I can't think of many criticisms of Win Bigly. All of this stuff is very minor compared to the excellent value this book provides.
Final Thoughts on Win Bigly
Overall, if you have any interest in marketing, politics, psychology, and particularly persuasion, Win Bigly is an excellent read.
The book took me somewhere between 5-10 hours to read. Like any great book, for the amount of useful information you learn for a low financial and time investment, it is absolutely worth a purchase.
This book gets a lot of love from me for many reasons.
It explains persuasion concepts in an easily understandable manner. The book is fun, informative, and easy to read. Since all of the examples are about recent world events, the examples are fresh inside your brain. This gives you more background knowledge on what he's talking about, which gives his insight the benefit of becoming even more valuable. It also gave me some facts on the election I wasn’t aware of.
And whether you like Trump or not (I'd imagine the majority of Western Mastery's readership support him to a good extent), you would be a fool to write off his persuasive and marketing talents. I've always said that anyone on the left who writes off his actions as barbaric idiocy is foolish because they are truly underestimating their enemy.
And like any successful person, you can learn a hell of a lot by analyzing Trump. Every time you see Trump — which will probably be a hell of a lot — you can get even more insight and analysis into his excellent persuasive and marketing talents. And thus, you can learn a lot more from his positive sides that you can put into action in your own life. Reading Win Bigly will give you more insight into what he does and why.
Anyway, long story short, you can see the lessons of this book everywhere in life. It will help you understand persuasion, marketing, branding, and politics in much more detail. That's a lot for one book.
For all of these reasons, Win Bigly is absolutely worth the price.
(Warning: Spittle-drenched is the kindest desrcription of this review!)
If you're worried that the Trump-vise crushing your American skull is losing its grip, I've got just the thing to tighten up the temples: Scott Adams' Win Bigly.
For a mere $27, you can own this new book, a hymn to President Donald Trump as huckster, by the inventor of the cartoon Dilbert. Win Bigly is like an oxygen-free cubicle into which is piped a barking infomercial for the president. If you buy the book now, I'll throw in a monthlong migraine absolutely free of charge.
Indeed, Win Bigly is a grind, a sales pitch that aims to convince readers, by applying max rhetorical pressure, of two twisted notions. First, that Trump is a high priest of seduction - a kind of political pickup artist with a game so masterful no voter can resist him. And second, that there's something supremely admirable in pickup artistry, even when the pickup involves extortion, simian dominance moves and flat-out lies - the stuff that, in courtship terms, is closer to rape than seduction.
As Adams sees it, Trump didn't win because historical odds had the Democrat losing after winning two prior presidential elections. He didn't win because working-class men were suffering in Michigan. He didn't win because of that felon he ran against, or because of voter suppression, or because of Russian influence operations. He was also not what the people wanted. He won because of his world-historical capacity for sales gibberish, and that is a good thing, if you ask Adams, because he loves the spectacle of a mesmeric businessman making chumps of his enemies.
Win Bigly is a hybrid of victory lap, self-help and ode to the confidence game. It's a victory lap because Adams, to the bewilderment of Dilbert fans, came out during the election as an admirer of Trump as a master of persuasion's dark arts. At first, he could pass it off as sympathy for the devil, but then it became clear that Adams had actual stars in his eyes. His rep now rested on a Trump triumph, so he was gunning for it. Although Adams styles himself as an 'ultra-liberal,' as he says in the book, he has somehow convinced himself that Trump is no threat to his ideals. In Adams' telling, Trump is just a wily old geezer - and a real riot once you know what he's up to.
(Here is Adams' explanation of his personal politics:
I label myself an ultraliberal, and by that I mean liberals seem too conservative to me. I'll give you some examples:
Generally speaking, conservatives want to ban abortion while liberals want it to remain legal. I go one step further and say that men should sideline themselves from the question and follow the lead of women on the topic of reproductive health. (Men should still be in the conversation about their own money, of course.) Women take on most of the burden of human reproduction, including all of the workplace bias, and that includes even the women who don't plan to have kids. My personal sense of ethics says that the people who take the most responsibility for important societal outcomes should also have the strongest say. My male opinion on women's reproductive health options adds nothing to the quality of the decision. Women have it covered. The most credible laws on abortion are the ones that most women support. And when life-and-death issues are on the table, credibility is essential to the smooth operation of society. My opinion doesn't add credibility to the system. When I'm not useful, I like to stay out of the way.
Generally speaking, conservatives are opposed to legalization of marijuana whereas liberals are more likely to support it. I go one step further and suggest that doctors prescribe recreational drugs for old people to make their final years enjoyable. What do they have to lose? (Yes, I'm serious. I know it's hard to tell.)
When it comes to complicated issues about economics and foreign affairs, my opinion is that I never have enough data to form competent opinions. Neither does anyone else. My opinion of my own limitations doesn't match that of any politician. They pretend they have enough information to make informed decisions.
Generally speaking, conservatives think we live in a country where everyone already has equal opportunity. Liberals generally think the government should do more to guarantee equal opportunity. I go one step further and suggest considering slavery reparations for African Americans in the form of free college and job training, funded by a twenty-five-year tax on the top 1 percent. In the long run, I want free education for all, but you have to start someplace. No matter who goes first, it will seem unfair to everyone else. So why not let African Americans in low-income families go first? Keep in mind that helping the demographic group that is in the deepest hole gives society the biggest economic bang for the buck. And when society is prosperous, most of it flows right back into the pockets of the 1 percent, making their taxes for this purpose almost an investment.
I hope those are enough examples to make my point. I'm not on any political team, and I like it that way.)
(Now back to the Politico venting)
The lion's share of Win Bigly is set during the 2016 election, which, as history has recorded, Trump won. (Small blessing: We don't revisit Trump's New York days as a self-styled deal maestro, whose thuggish offers-you-can't-refuse in real estate were part and parcel of his moral, and then actual, bankruptcy.) But Adams' choice to stick with the overparsed election is ill-conceived, too. As 65,844,954 American voters soundly snubbed Trump in favor of his opponent, it's hard to claim that he is the irresistible Ryan Gosling of the girlish electorate.
Nonetheless, Adams makes a manful effort. He believes that he, like his hero, is powerfully persuasive. He finds it important to tell us over and over that he’s a trained hypnotist, and his watch-swinging tone of voice sure enough makes the reader believe she is supposed to be getting sleeeepy. As for Trump, here are his trove of superhero persuasion tricks, as glossed by Adams: Trump repeats himself; he asks directly to be believed; he keeps it simple; he's ambiguous. He does everything but neg you to get you to succumb to his charms.
(A lengthy explanation of why Adams believes hypnotism is relevant here)
Adams' aim with this book is not to unearth these techniques as a public service or a warning. Instead, he seems to want to redeem the rhetorical skills of the serpent, persuading readers to love the conman's hiss, fangs and poison for their own sake. This means accepting Adams' view of his readers and Trump voters as 'moist robots' - or, 'programmable entities' - who are both barely human and infinitely vulnerable to manipulation and suggestion. A hundred percent of Trump's supporters are a basket of moist robots? Unlike 'deplorable,' I doubt 'moist robot' is going to go into any Trumpite's Twitter handle anytime soon. Maybe when you're a star, they let you do anything, but my first reaction to Adams' attempted hypnosis in this book was to try to Mace it.
William Blake once said that John Milton, when he wrote Paradise Lost, was "of the Devil's party without knowing it." He meant that Milton wrote the character of Satan so vividly he must have subconsciously adored him. Certainly there are always people who admire the swashbuckling rebel evil of the Ozzy Osbourne variety. A small subset of those of Satan's party, however, are not amused spectators but aspiring sadists themselves, and Adams has somehow become one of those. Like Trump, he now seems to enjoy the pain of others. When observers expressed "anger, fear, disappointment and shock" at the outcome of the election that brought them up short, Adams saw their anguish as "a show of cognitive dissonance so pure and so deep that it was, frankly, beautiful."
Why this new crusade for Adams? Well, if he's to be believed, and he cautions us not to believe him for a second, he's not out to get rich. He is already too Dilbert-rich. (Sound familiar? "I don’t need your money" is the first line of hokum of many cons, and surely a way to get into your pants ...pockets.) Adams is also, he says, not partisan. In one of the weirdest passages in a weird book, he spells out the eccentric "ultra-liberal" policies he advocates, including that only women should decide abortion laws and that generous reparations for slavery should be underwritten by a 25 percent tax on the top 1 percent of the population. These rhetorical postures are meant to make Adams sound like he has no dog in the bygone 2016 race. Yet, he clearly does. He has made a second career as a moony Trump admirer. And Trump, so far, has said very little about reparations or female separatist voting blocs.
When a book feels like a psychic trap, often it's because it is built on a tautology. Win Bigly is. Trump won the election because he's a Master Persuader; the proof that he's a Master Persuader is that he won the election. Round and round Adams goes, as if he is offering lordly wisdom about overmastering other people from Trump's playbook. By book's end, Adams has become a kind of cartoonish Goebbels - and not Goebbels meaning 'Nazi,' but the historical Joseph Goebbels, famous for announcing he was the king of lies. Arguments, Goebbels believed, should be 'crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect.' He also believed that 'truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and instincts.' Oh look, here's Adams's subtitle: 'Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter.' (Adams, for the record, has said he does not like being likened to Goebbels.)
In his own commitment to bypassing everyone's intellect, Adams nearly always uses 'persuade' without an object, as if one might be persuaded without being persuaded of something. The proof that someone is persuasive is that he has changed your mind, and yet Adams offers no proof that Trump's rhetoric changed anyone's mind. Registered Republicans voted overwhelmingly for him. Some Barack Obama voters who felt left behind by the Democratic Party voted for him. Those who favored the deportation of Mexicans and Muslims voted for him. Those with contempt for his female opponent voted for him. These reasons may be savory or not, but they are not the reasons of brainless chumps.
"Is this sort of framing unethical?" Adams asks in curiously small print in the book (which he reserves for his reprinted blog posts). Maybe, he says, when negotiating with a family member or a friend, but when bullying an adversary, anything goes. To Adams, as to Trump in Adams's surmise, the American people are an adversary to be strong-armed into casting their votes for a fraud.
The book, which praises Trump with hyperbole usually reserved for Trump when he's talking about himself, notably never makes a case for Trump as president of the United States. Adams admits his reasons for supporting Trump were careerist: Once he got himself into a lather about the candidate's virtuosity, his professional standing rested on his being right about Trump's victory. Anyway, as Adams makes clear, endorsing a candidate is only ever a pose, and Adams went through four of them. He first endorsed Hillary Clinton because he feared that her army of trolls would physically harm him if he didn't. ("Clinton supporters have convinced me - and I'm 100 percent serious - that my safety is at risk if I am seen as supportive of Trump.") He deciding that Clinton, with her tax plan, was trying "to rob my estate." He endorsed Trump only to have that cost him speaking gigs and draw trolls on Twitter; scared again, he switched to Gary Johnson. But it seems he was still mad about his estate being robbed and those mean tweets, and he decided he needed to stand up to the "Hillbullies" using his indomitable powers of persuasion.
And so, Adams re-endorsed Trump. He nursed his contempt for Hillbullies. He savored his sense of himself as better at persuasion than everyone but maybe Trump. And then he wrote this sorrowful book.
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