If you think Scott Adams is just a mere cartoonist, responsible for creating the Dilbert series of cartoons, then you’re seriously underestimating the man. I first learned of Adam’s prowess outside of cartoons on the Tim Ferriss podcast a few years back, and picked up his excellent book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life last year, in which he balanced his trademark humour with discussing his (many) failures over the years.
We’re all encouraged to “fail fast, and fail often”, but these trite cliches are easily overlooked. Adams truly does believe that he owes all of his success to all of his failures, and can point out something that he “won” in every single one of his failures – a lesson learnt, a new skill obtained, a new partnership forged. He also talks about “talent stacking”, where if you can become pretty good at two or things things, and combine those skills, you’ll have a much better chance of success than if you worked hard and attempted to become world class at just one of them.
Scott Adams will be the first person to admit that he’s not the best artist in the world. But he’s pretty good. He’s also quite funny, but he’s no Peter Kay. And he’s got some knowledge of the corporate world, and how it works.
Combine those three, and you have a potent recipe for success.
Adams is also a trained hypnotist, and keen student of the power of persuasion (which is ultimately what hypnosis is). And when it comes to persuasion, there are few people more persuasive than Donald Trump, who Adams refers to as a “master persuader”.
What I learned from Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter.
- Humans make emotional decisions first, then use cognitive dissonance to rationalise them. We all like to believe that we’re rational people, but we are all led by our emotions far more than we would care to admit, even to ourselves. Trump understands the power of making an emotional case first, and letting the public rationalise it later.
- There’s no such thing as reality. Every single one of us experiences the world in a unique way. We all have our own “movies” playing in our head which is “the way things are”. On election night in 2016, when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the US presidency, half of the population were watching a movie where the next Hitler had just moved into the White House, and half the country were rejoicing that their savour had come. Same reality, different movies. Anyone who’s watched the Brexit saga unfold over the last two years has also witnessed this first hand, where Remainers and Brexiteers experience the same reality, yet end up watching different movies.
- Things that are boring don’t stand out. Trump was anything but boring. From the red baseball cap, his power stance, the haircut, the orange tan, and the sheer size of the man (he would often stand next to the shortest person he could find to appear even taller) – humans trust tall people more!
- Trump was the master of “pacing and leading”. He shoulder-barged his way into any conversation, and then led that conversation exactly where he wanted it. As Adams said, when you give a master persuader control of the international media, and one of the world’s most followed Twitter accounts for the best part of eighteen months, it’s no wonder that Trump was able to persuade people to elect him.
- Ask for what you want. Twice. How did Trump get people to believe what he was saying. He’d say something unbelievable (see point 3), then end the statement with something like “Believe me, it’s true. It’s true.” Here, Trump is explicitly giving you an instruction – “believe me.” But then he’s also going further, with the use of repetition (“it’s true, it’s true.”) for ensure that you take notice. When someone says something once, you might miss it, but when they repeat themselves, you remember. When they repeat themselves, you remember.
- Be vague, and let others fill in the detail. Remember “the wall”? Trump never gave any details about how high the wall would be, what the construction would look like, or how it would work over different terrain. But he gave people a visual focus – “a wall”. You were free to imagine “the wall” being whatever you wanted it to be. He did the same with broad nicknames for his rival candidates – “Crooked”, “Cry-baby”, “Sleepin'” – Trump would give you a vague attribute to their character, and leave you to fill in the details with your own confirmation bias. When he called Clinton “Crooked”, the next time Hillary avoided a question, or denied some scandal or another (as most politicians do on a daily basis), that behaviour would only reenforce the “crooked” confirmation bias. This tactic was also used against Trump, with the nickname “Dark.
- We want to be part of a team. Trump’s team had bright red baseball caps so you could identify them. He would often start a speech with a line like “Many people tell me that…”, “We’re going to…” or “Like many of you…” – Trump painted himself as on your team. And if you weren’t on his team, then you were against him, and he was going to take you down.
- One scandal can kill you. One hundred just keeps you in the news feed. If “Pussygate” had been the only scandal of Trump’s election campaign, it could have been catastrophic for him. But it was just the latest in a series of scandals. Even as I write this, two years into Trump’s presidency, he appears to make regular gaffes and his haters are quick to pour scorn on him. But the rest of us have developed kind of “Trump Blindness”, just how we don’t notice ads once we get used to seeing them every day.
In summary, I don’t believe that Trump is the buffoon that he likes to portray. Thanks to Win Bigly, I’m much more aware of how a Master Persuader works, and how I can make changes to my own life to be more persuasive. My biggest takeaway from listening to the audiobook was that we are emotional creatures first and foremost. We make decisions based on what we want, and then rationalise that decision with fact.
Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter, by Scott Adams was published in 2017 by Portfolio Penguin. It’s available to buy here, in paperback, Kindle, hardback, audiobook and CD version.