In Win Bigly (2017) Scott Adams chronicles the 2016 US election and analyzes how Donal Trump, a master persuader in his own words, maneuvered and manipulated the media to win the election.
About the Author: Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, and turned into political commentator and, apparently, persuasion expert.
Scott Adams makes a few claims of being apolitical, but it doesn’t feel so.
It feels like he’s awestruck by Trump, which is not uncommon in the presence of successful grandiose narcissists and Machiavellians.
And as time went on, by the 2020 election he surely seems to have shifted into being a conservative. More than “conservative”, it was more like “conspiracist MAGA”, Tweeting incessantly about election fraud, as well as re-tweeting, and being retweeted, by Trump:
Adams leverages several well-known influencing triggers and mentions several famous authors and popular psychology texts, including Cialdini’s Influence and Pre-suasion, Thinking Fast and Slow, Predictably Irrational, Made to Stick and Trump’s own The Art of The Deal.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
We Make Decisions Irrationally & Rationalize Afterwards
We think of ourselves are rational, but we make most of our decisions irrationally and only later back-rationalize to “make sense” of our choices.
When you are under attack, don’t answer to the attack, but move the fight to a universal issue that everyone can relate and agree to.
We’re not perfect. Phones aren’t perfect. We want to make all our users happy.
Jobs acknowledge the mistake, but without apologizing or saying “I’m sorry”.
He simply stated a universal truth and then moved to a positive response to which everyone can agree with.
High Ground is Adult Ground
The example he used was particularly good:
Hypocrite Accusation Pundit 1: Your side didn’t do enough to end street violence.
Pundit 2: Well, don’t forget that your side failed at it too!
The high ground instead agrees and says that they learned a lot from their mistake, they are correcting it and they want to come up with even better solutions.
The high ground takes the adult and proactive role while framing the hypocrite pundit 1 as the child who can only offer complaints and accusations (also read I’m OK You’re OK for more on child roles).
Tangible Examples Over Abstraction
Tangible, vivid examples are much more effective than complex abstractions and policies.
Trump’s “wall” was an example of a strong, tangible policy that everyone could easily grasp and imagine.
Act The Part
Act Like you are already president and people will vote like you already are.
Scott Adams for example says that Trump’s jet looked like the Air Force One.
Hillary’s plane didn’t.
Say Crazy Stuff to Dominate The Media
By using hyperbole and over the top, sensationalistic claims, Trump was all over the media.
As a matter of fact, the media came to depend on Trump to sell and make news.
And all his political opponents virtually disappeared.
Sometimes that hyperbole got Trump some bad publicity, but it was overall well worth it.
How Scott Adams Leverage Crazy Claims
Scott Adams admits in Win Bigly of having used a similar manipulative technique when he said that Trump had a 98% chance of winning.
He didn’t know the exact percentage, but he said a very high, highly specific number to get some press about it.
I’m With Her Was Dumb Slogan
I agree with the author that Hillary Clinton’s “I’m with her” slogan was very poor.
It doesn’t say anything about the people and it doesn’t pack any emotional punch.
Most of all, it’s very self-referential and all about Hillary.
Basket of Deplorables Loses Bigly
The author says that Trump profited handsomely from Hillary’s gaffe of “basket of deplorables”.
Trump framed it as an example of contempt. And that was the perfect move, as the author reminds us that contempt is one of the nastiest emotional and the biggest predictor of divorce.
Strategic ambiguity intentionally leaves out parts of the message that could be objectable.
People fill in the gaps with whatever they feel and like, thus agreeing with you.
This is a double-edged sword because people who don’t like you will fill the gaps with negative ideas. And you fail the opportunity of possibly winning over some of them.
Donald Trump’s Power Moves
I have written extensively on Trump’s power moves.
You can read more here, including several videos on his tactics:
There is much that made me disagree with Win Bigly, including:
- Continuous bragging on “calling the future”
Win Bigly is a big parade of the author’s ability to “predict the future”. A couple of times he said that his predictions were so good that they ended up spooking people.
The author quotes A Random Walk Down Wall Street and Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, but Win Bigly didn’t seem to take any lesson learned from Taleb.
Especially from Fooled by Randomness. Win Bigly indeed seems to me has been very much fooled by randomness.
And then, of course: anyone who brags about predicting the future doesn’t score high in my book.
- “My rational confidence on a Trump win”
That’s a quote straight from Win Bigly.
To me, it makes no sense.
Anyone who calls a prediction about the future, without any data, “rational” is not being rational.
Even if the author believed Trump was the best influencer ever, that does not assure a victory. And does not warrant the label “rational” on a prediction.
- Reality Distortion Field & Investment
Win Bigly goes into stock investment recommendations as well, saying the following:
If the CEO of a mass public company is told to have a “reality distortion field”, keep an eye on that company.
Keep an eye on that company” could be said of any oddball CEO. Or any CEO really.
Of course, the author backed his claim with the usual correlational evidence of his own Apple’s investment (a meaningless, non-evidence).
- Lots of forced explanations
Win Bigly seeks to find reasons for Trump’s win through his persuasion strategies.
But as Tony Robbins says, you find what you look for.
And the author ends up finding a bit too many and a bit too improbable explanations.
One of them is that Trump is so addictive because he’s unpredictable.
- Sometimes feels overly braggart
Win Bigly at times feels very self-promotional.
A parade of the author’s purported superior knowledge, qualifications, huge Twitter following, big-ticket speaking gigs, and dating success (yes, even that one).
At a certain point, the author even suggests that Trump and Cialdini might have been swayed by his writing.
I don’t know if that were the case… But I still don’t think it’s a good reason to brag.
See here: how to self-promote effectively.
- Trump wins at negotiation because people expect him to do well?
Win Bigly says that Trump does well at negotiation because people expect him to do well.
And to me, this sounded like another example of a forced case of over-explanation.
The fact that Trump might as well tell people they need to be careful, and raise their defensive wall.
And Trump didn’t do so well negotiating with Democrats and North Korea after all..
- New Yorker personality VS Californian personality
Win Bigly says that Californian don’t understand Trump because they have a different sense of humor.
My claim, is that it’s easier for a New Yorker to understand another New Yorker than it is for a Californian to understand a New Yorker
That might be true, but the influence of that on understanding someone’s psychology is so minimal that it shouldn’t be even mentioned.
The author then delves deeper into the different “New Yorker” and “Californian” personalities.
And to me, that sounded ridiculous.
- “Trained Persuaders” and “Master Persuaders”
The author says that a “trained persuader” can easily recognize another persuader.
Obviously, he counts himself in the field of “trained persuaders”, albeit all that we here are a lot of references to some hypnotist training and a lot of circular references to a few popular persuasion books.
- The author detects lies and illnesses
The author says that he uses hypnotists tells to detect lies with scary accuracy.
Most experts agree you can’t detect lies with “scary accuracy”, and tests show that “expert lie detectors” are barely any better than non-experts and are wrong almost as often as they are right (also read: What EveryBODY is Saying and The Like Switch by professional interrogators).
The author also says he could detect Clinton was ill.
That all sounded ludicrous to me.
- Why we are a simulation
The author says we are probably a simulation because our cognitive biases explain how the simulation can save computing resources.
To me, that makes no sense.
As you can read by the cons and the review, I cannot give thumbs up to Win Bigly.
However, there are plenty of good and even a few great ideas here.
I was particularly and positively impressed by the analysis of the high ground technique and the adult VS child role.
I enjoyed reading Win Bigly, but the more I listened, the less I could take it seriously.
Ultimately, I don’t think this is a good or balanced analysis.
Win Bigly seeks to find meaning where there might be just randomness. It invests each trump’s move with pre-planned rationality as it repeats “master persuader” afterward.
And, cherry on the pie, Win Bigly was also way off the mark.
The author brags about his predictions. But he predicted a “win by a landslide”. And in terms of total counts, Trump got fewer votes… By a good margin.