Trump’s win in 2016 U.S. presidential election came as jaw dropping surprise. Those who concluded that Trump was nothing but a lucky clown, missed one of the most important perceptual shifts of present times. If you’re curious and open to changing your world view to become a better decision maker, Scott Adams’ book is for you.
Trump’s win in 2016 U.S. presidential election came as a jaw-dropping surprise. If you concluded that Trump was nothing but a lucky clown, you missed one of the most important perceptual shifts of present times. If you’re curious and open to changing your worldview to become a better decision maker, Scott Adams’ book is for you.
For most Americans, it was a non-event when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States on June 16, 2015. People brushed Trump aside as a novelty and sideshow. They thought of it as another of his attempt to create controversy. So it wasn’t a surprise when Nate Silver, the most respected political forecaster in the United States, put Trump’s odds of winning at 2 percent in his FiveThirtyEight.com blog. However, a cartoonist sitting in the west corner of North America challenged the conventional wisdom.
On August 13, 2015, Scott Adams, creator of wildly popular comic strip Dilbert, predicted in his blog that Donald Trump had a 98 percent chance of winning the presidency. Political pundits sized up Trump based on models, numbers, and statistics. Adams spotted something unusual. He saw an powerful talent stack in Trump, i.e., his business background, a vast experience as a hardcore negotiator and above all his extraordinary persuasion skills. Adams writes –
I saw it as Trump recognizing that people don’t use facts and reason to make decisions. A skilled persuader can blatantly ignore facts and policy details so long as the persuasion is skillful. 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.
For 15 months leading up to Trump’s win, Adams dissected Trump’s every move through the lens of persuasion principles. Every time Trump seemed to embarrass himself in public, and the crowd gasped in horror, Adams saw it as Trump’s artfully crafted persuasion blows on unsuspecting opponents and naive voters.
Although the backdrop of this book is political and Donald Trump stands as the protagonist of the story, the true value of the book lies in the persuasion principles that Adams has weaved adeptly in the Trump story.
“I invite people of all political perspectives to enjoy this book without getting sidetracked by politics. I won’t be discussing policies except in the context of persuasion. This book isn’t designed to change your mind about politics or about Trump. All I hope to do is teach you some things about persuasion by wrapping it in an entertaining first-person story.”
Why Trust a Cartoonist?
The world is full of forecasters who were right once in a row. Maybe Scott Adams is one such guy who got lucky. After all, he had no background as a political commentator. I think there are two reasons why you should listen to Scott. First, he has been using many of the persuasion tricks in his writing career since last three decades. Being a cartoonist, it takes real talent to make people laugh using very few words. So even if Trump didn’t win, there’s a lot of merit in what Scott has to teach on the topic of persuasion. Second, and most important, is that he had no hidden agenda or incentive to support Trump. In fact, his income from speaking assignments went to zero the moment he started commenting on Trump. Not only that, all his new contracts for Dilbert publication got canceled. In spite of that, he went ahead with his Trump project.
…when it came to communicating what I knew, I had one enormous advantage that almost no one else covering the election had: I wasn’t doing it for the money. I’m already rich. No one owns me. The common business term for that situation is having F-you money. And I have it. That gave me the freedom to say whatever I thought was both useful and true. And thanks to my popular blog at Dilbert.com, I had a direct channel to the public. I also knew there would be plenty of haters coming at me as soon as I started saying good things about Trump’s talents. And come after me they did—amateurs, professionals, and paid trolls alike. Luckily for me, I had a three-word philosophy beginning with F and ending with “money” that covered that situation. And I made sure my readers knew that’s how I was thinking. The freedom to say whatever I wanted to say—and to do it publicly—was half the fun.
Charlie Munger has always talked about the power of incentives and how they affect people’s ability to make right decisions. Whose bread I eat his song I sing, goes the adage. It’s almost impossible to hold an unbiased opinion when one isn’t financially independent. When you listen to Munger’s speeches, you can sense a similar sense of “I don’t give a damn” attitude. And that fearlessness is the key ingredient for having a fiercely independent thought process.
A Different Worldview
The strangest secret that this book (and Trump’s win) uncovered is that sound logical reasoning based on verifiable facts counts far less in determining how we humans perceive our world.
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. The only wrinkle with that worldview is that … 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.
Let me remind you Charlie Munger’s words – To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Most people look at the world based on small set of beliefs. Persuasion is not one of them. Encountering something which defies our worldview, triggers massive cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a state when our brain goes on an involuntary rationalizing spree to resolve the contradictions. Instead of changing our beliefs and mental models, we get busy fooling ourselves and slip into the comfort of delusions.
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.
Do you remember Trump’s suggestion to build a wall on U.S. border to stop illegal immigrants? Wasn’t the idea impractical? It was utterly ridiculous. Prima facie, it showed how naive Trump was. However, looking through the lens of persuasion, you’d realize that Trump said those crazy things deliberately.
When Trump said he would deport millions of undocumented immigrants who were otherwise obeying the law, his critics saw it as the beginning of a Hitler-like roundup of the people who are “different” in some way. I saw it as a thoroughly impractical idea that served as a mental “anchor” to brand Trump as the candidate who cared the most about our porous borders and planned to do the most about them. Never mind that his initial deportation plan was mean, impractical, and—many would say—immoral. Trump’s position gave him plenty of room to negotiate back to something more reasonable after he was in office. That’s exactly what happened, even if you don’t like where he ended up. As I write this, President Trump’s current immigration policy is focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who committed serious crimes after entering. His critics probably felt relieved because his opening offer (mass deportation) was so aggressive that his current policy seems more reasonable than it might have without the opening offer for contrast. That is classic deal making. You start with a big first demand and negotiate back to your side of the middle.
That’s just one small shot from Trump’s arsenal of persuasion weapons.
The thing about persuasion is that it works even if the subject recognizes the technique. Everyone knows that stores list prices at $9.99 because $10.00 sounds like too much, writes Adams, “It still works.”
My brain went into a tizzy when I realized that Scott was using persuasion techniques to explain how persuasion techniques work. A meta-persuasion if you will. Sample this –
So why did I say Trump had exactly a 98 percent chance of winning when I couldn’t possibly know the odds? That’s a persuasion technique. You saw Trump use the intentional wrongness persuasion play over and over, and almost always to good effect. The method goes like this: Make a claim that is directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration or factual error in it. Wait for people to notice the exaggeration or error and spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is. When you dedicate focus and energy to an idea, you remember it. And the things that have the most mental impact on you will irrationally seem as though they are high in priority, even if they are not. That’s persuasion. If I had boringly predicted that Trump would win the election, without any odds attached to it, the public would have easily shrugged it off as another minor.
Why Should an Investor Read This Book?
As an investor, it’s crucial to decode what company’s promoters and management communicate to investors. These people are shrewd businessmen and master negotiators. You are never sure if you can take their words at their face value. They have all the incentives to use persuasion skills to have their way with all stakeholders including minority shareholders, i.e., you. If you aren’t aware of the most common persuasion principles and tricks, says Adams, you’re like a man with stick fighting against a flamethrower.
To call Scott’s Trump journey a roller coaster ride would be a mild way to put it. Once you start reading Win Bigly, expect a shattering blow on your worldview. You’ll need to put a seatbelt on your brain.
Good luck![/show_to] [hide_from accesslevel=’almanack’]
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