Lessons of Persuasion from Scott Adams' Win Bigly

Date reviewed: Sep 14 2020
How strongly I recommend it: 8.5 / 10
Read more on Amazon

Overall Thoughts

An entertaining and actionable book by popular cartoonist and trained hypnotist Scott Adams. It analyzes Donald Trump, who Scott called a "Master Persuader", and his success in the 2016 election as a case study to illustrate the many ways in which humans can be persuaded. It not about good or bad, right or wrong. But rather a set of filters, through which to see the world, that can better explain and predict events in reality. And you will likely walk away with a handful of powerful tools of persuasion.


Facts are overrated

The human brain is limited in its capacity to perceive reality. We are hardwired to respond to emotions, not reason.

Scott's experience is itself an example: using a bit of de liberate wrongness , he managed to attract more attention than he otherwise would have.

And as a general rule, irrational people don’t know they are irrational.

We are hardwired to reciprocate favours

If you want a person's cooperation tomorrow, do that person a favour today.

In business, sales people use this tactic to their advantage all the time.

Persuasion still works even if the person recognizes the technique

In a way, this is similar to optical or audio illusions. Even if you know certain psychological effects are at play, it is hard to resist.

What you think more about becomes more important in your mind

When you devote mental energy to an idea, you remember it better.

For this reason, intentional "errors" in your message can make the message rise in importance. The errors attract criticism, which is a form of attention.

Find the sweet spot between apologizing too much and never apologizing

Apologize too much, and you come off as lacking confidence.

Apologize too little, and you come off as a sociopath.

Don't trust any explanation without any predictive power

It is easy to make up an explanation after the fact. With a little imagination, you can fit any theory to the past. How credible it sounds is not a good indicator of how well it predicts future events.

People are more influenced by the direction of things

Big, exaggerated claims that are directionally accurate are more effective in convincing people.

After spotting the factual errors in your claims, people will spend time talking about how wrong it is. But this attention and exposure makes your claims more persuasive.

Display confidence to improve persuasiveness

You need to believe it yourself, before others will.

Credibility of the messenger matters

The more credible the messenger, the stronger the persuasion. It is easier to persuade a person who already believes you are persuasive. When you signal your credentials, people expect you to have more influence over them.

Guess what people are thinking, and call it out

"By now you are wondering..." is a powerful technique. Guess what people are thinking, ideally at the very moment they think it. If you can pull that off, you immediately form a mental bond with the listener. It has the effect of "I know the question that is in your head at the moment that it is".

Leave out any detail that is both unimportant and would get people to think: "that's not me"

Leaving out unimportant details makes it easier for people to relate. Scott gave a great example: if Dilbert (main character in his comic) had a last name, it could trigger irrational associations that make you feel less connected to him.

Scott also calls this "Strategic ambiguity".

High-ground maneuver

The High-Ground Maneuver takes the conversation out of the children-arguing frame and positions yourself as the adult in the room. You are the wiser person, with principles that people can't disagree with.

If something feels as if it should work, most of us conclude that it does

We don't have the time to rigorously make every decision. Instead, we rely on our "intuition" or "common sense" to get by.

Unpredictable rewards are more addictive

Think about slot machines at casinos, or social media feeds and notifications. They give you irregular rewards in the form of dopamine. And they are effective.

People prefer certainty over uncertainty, even when the certainty is wrong

No additional notes.

Visual persuasion is more powerful than non-visual persuasion

All else being equal, that is. Humans are generally visual creatures. Using visual language and visual imagery is persuasive. What's more, if you can make someone imagine the scene, you don't even need a physical picture.

People are more persuaded by contrast than by facts or reason

Every decision is a comparison of alternatives. If you control how people see the alternatives, you can sell anything.

People's emotional reaction to two ideas merge over time, when you associate them together

This is one reason why walking a dog is good for meeting people - people naturally transfer the good memories associated with dogs to you.

People get used to minor annoyances

Given enough time, people can get over minor annoyances. If your brain didn't have ability to do that, you would have a very difficult time in life, since your daily experience is full of small annoyances.

Two ways to win. No way to lose

An example is getting an engineering degree in college. It gives you many ways to win, opens up your options, even though you may not yet know exactly what your career will look like.

More generally, have a system instead of a goal. A goal is by definition one wya to win and (infinitely) many ways to lose.

Direct requests are persuasive

President Trump likes to pepper his claims with "believe me", and it works. In business, ask your prospective customers to buy.

Repetition is persuasion

Repetition is persuasion.

Repetition is persuasion.

Repetition is persuasion.

Match the speaking style of your audience

If you can get your audience to see you as one of their own, persuasion becomes easy.

Simple explanations look more credible than complicated ones

Simplicity makes your ideas easy to understand. It makes it easy to remember, and also easy to spread.

"Fake because"

When people are looking for reasons to agree with you, any "because" will do. You are just giving them the "permission" to agree with you. If you don't provide a good "because" they could use to justify their decisions, they would likely just choose some other "because".

The Persuasion Stack

The strongest (and more emotional) are at the top:

  • Big fear
  • Identity
  • Smaller fear
  • Aspirations
  • Habit
  • Analogies
  • Reason
  • Hypocrisy
  • Word-thinking
  • Each week, I send out a newsletter where I share my learnings, new ways to see things, and new ways to feel.

    Enter your email below to subscribe.

    My Other Essays

    The Next Frontier of Search

    Why I Still Learn Languages

    Farming Luck with a Portfolio of Small Bets

    Start Something. Start Something Stupid.

    and more