What is Scott Adams’ Win Bigly about? What persuasion methods does he discuss in the book?
Win Bigly by Scott Adams is an “offensive” book—it shows you how to leverage people’s biases and irrationality to persuade on your point of view. To this end, the author teaches the persuasion methods that politicians use in their campaigns and how you can apply them to be persuasive yourself.
Here is a brief overview of Scott Adams’s 2017 book Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter.
Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter
During the 2016 US Presidential elections, at a time when pundits had Trump at 2% likelihood of winning, Dilbert creator Scott Adams predicted that Donald Trump would win — primarily because of his persuasive power. According to Adams, what looked to outsiders like blunders or mere accidents – his “Rosie O’Donnell” debate response, nicknames like “Crooked Hillary,” the repetition of building “the wall” – were instead examples of a Master Persuader channeling a nation’s energy to help his candidacy.
If you’ve read books like Cialdini’s Influence and Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, you’re already aware of the biases that block you from rationality. These are more “defensive” books – you learn how to improve your internal thinking to become more objective.
Regardless of your politics, you probably want to get better at persuading people to see your point of view. Below is a brief overview of the key themes discussed in Scott Adams’ Win Bigly.
People are Irrational and Emotional
You think of yourself as rational, making decisions with facts and logic. Instead, people are governed by emotion and heuristic thinking much more than they think.
Consider instead that humans are 90% irrational and emotion. They make a decision first by gut, then rationalize it afterward.
The only exceptions are when decisions have no emotional content, like buying an identical product for less money.
Think of humans as “moist robots,” a programmable entity that produces the right output when given the right inputs.
Master persuaders are people who have incredible persuasion skills and form “reality distortion fields.” Examples include Steve Jobs and Donald Trump.
Master persuaders often have a persuasion “talent stack,” or a collection of persuasion-related skills that work well together. The more you can combine, the more persuasive you will be.
According to Scott Adams, Trump’s talent stack made him very persuasive even when he wasn’t notably brilliant in any one field. Trump had the combination of (Publicity | Reputation | Strategy | Negotiating | Persuasion | Public speaking | Sense of humor | Quick on his feet | Thick skinned | High-energy | Size and appearance | Intelligence).
This is Scott Adams’s ordering of methods of persuasion, from least to most effective:
- Pointing out hypocrisy
- Appealing to aspirations
- Appealing to fears
Set the Expectation of Being Persuaded
People are more easily persuaded if they expect to be persuaded.
- Doctors post their degrees on their walls. Salespeople drive fancy cars to show they’re good at their jobs.
- Trump wrote Art of the Deal and convinced the world he was a great negotiator. Now every person going in had subconscious permission to do worse against Trump as a persuader. Brilliantly, the book is not just about persuasion – it is persuasion.
Brand yourself as a winner. If people expect you to win, they will be biased toward making it happen.
Display Confidence and Energy
Display confidence to improve your persuasiveness. You have to believe yourself to get anyone else to believe. Energy is contagious.
People perceive high energy as competence and leadership.
Confidence works in signaling status and quality. People with status have the freedom to act however they like, including like assholes. People without status need to grovel and be excessively nice to get what they want.
Simple is catchier. It’s easier to understand and remember.
Get rid of extra words. Don’t write “he was very happy” when you can write “he was happy.” Prune your sentences.
Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers are lazier and less thoughtful than you think.
Images stick more stably in people’s minds, making them more readily available and thus thought about more.
Use simple imagery.
Leave it vague enough to let people fill in their own blanks.
Example: Trump’s “big, beautiful wall.” If you’re like most people, you pictured a large concrete wall 15 feet high.
- Obviously, this would be impractical – a metal fence or digital sensors would be better – but the imagery was powerful. “The wall” was obviously more persuasive and catchy than “border control using a variety of security technologies.”
- He didn’t provide his own renderings or descriptions of the wall. Het let people imagine it, which made them more attracted to their own conception of the idea.
Persuasion Strategies and Tactics
Linguistic kill shot: a unique (non-trite), visual, meaningful catchphrase. “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Rubio.” Trump was called “dark.”
- Confirmation bias secures these nicknames.
High-ground maneuver: instead of engaging with a complaint specific to you, neutralize it by relating it to a universal problem everyone can relate to.
- In response to Antennagate, Steve Jobs said, “We’re not perfect. Phones aren’t perfect. We want to make all our users happy.”
Visual persuasion: Images are far more effective than abstract words.
- Trump’s border wall along Mexico.
- Trump on SNL with a skit in the oval office. It became easier to picture him as President.
Pacing and leading: Follow the pace of your listener – speaking tone, content, beliefs. Then once you feel they’re following you, bring them to your conclusion.
- Trump matched the complexity of speech of his voters – simple words, simple sentences. This made him easier to relate to.
Anchoring to hyperbole, then backing off: Propose an outrageous solution. Then as people argue about it, dial it back to show an earnest concession.
- Trump proposed deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. This was clearly an impractical idea that branded Trump as the candidate who cared the most about our borders. He then walked it back to focusing on criminals.
Highlight the contrasts: Always present your solution in the context of worse alternatives. You will look more thorough/objective, and your option will look better.
- When trying to impress people, participate in activities at which you excel compared to others. People will form an impression of you as generally talented, even if you are otherwise equal to others.
- Compare someone’s small issue with a big problem. This will re-frame their small worries.
If these sound interesting, look in the full summary for many more tactics we don’t have space to cover here.
Example of Trump’s Persuasion
In a debate, Megyn Kelly asked, “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals’…” Trump interrupted, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” The crowd laughed and applauded. When Kelly finished the question, Trump continued with an answer about the problem of political correctness.
Here are the persuasive tactics Trump used, in just 3 words:
- Visual image – Rosie O’Donnell was a recognizable image, especially for people who disliked her.
- Pacing and leading – he knew his base detested O’Donnell for her outspoken liberal views, so the image was triggering
- High-ground maneuver – instead of apologizing for his remarks, he took to the high ground on the destructiveness of political correctness. This neutralized the question so that his seemingly insulting comments no longer mattered.
- Get people talking – the quip was so novel and interesting to ignore, the attention focused on him other than his 16 competitors.
Scott Adams considers this response a masterful move. Trump “converted Kelly’s attack into pure energy” and harnessed that energy for his own purposes.
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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Scott Adams's "Win Bigly" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full Win Bigly summary:
- The persuasion tactics Donald Trump used throughout the 2016 presidential campaign
- Why Hillary Clinton's campaign fell short
- How to leverage people’s biases and irrationality to persuade on your point of view