Win Bigly — Review

Scott Adams book on Trump’s persuasion tactics during the 2016 election had me laughing until my sides hurt and I was worried I would drop my gun out of the tree stand. He had me doubting my ability to rationally perceive the world. “Win Bigly” is bound to be a classic in the field of propaganda and persuasion.

On August 2, 2015, the eminent election statistician Nate Silver set Donald Trump’s chance at winning the Republican nomination at 2%. On August 28, 2015, Scott Adams set Donald Trump’s odds at winning the general election at 98%. By all rights, Adams was way out over his skis. Why would a cartoonist think he could out predict a trained statistician, let alone make such a wildly different prediction? Yet on November 9, 2016, Adams was vindicated, while Silver was left looking for answers. Luck is the easiest and simplest explanation. Adams looks at the world from a different perspective, the perspective of persuasion.

I’m a trained statistician. Adams’ setting the odds of Trump’s victory at 98% seems beyond the “information limit” of our world. Any analysis proceeding from historical data would have had the odds of Trump winning the election in the low single digits (I wouldn’t have fared any better than Silver). What did Adams see in Trump that made him pop off the page?

“Persuasion in a world were facts don’t matter” is the tagline of the book. Adams argues that humans don’t make decisions on a rational basis. We more often decide on irrational grounds, rather than building our positions on rational reason. A great example of an appeal to the irrational would be Adam’s odds of Trump winning the Presidency. 98% is obviously wrong and absurdly high. Adams was far overstating Trump’s odds. Scott describes the persuasion technique he was using as follows

  1. Make a claim that is directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration or factual error in it.
  2. Wait for people to notice the exaggeration or error and spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is.
  3. 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.

Adams overstated the odds for persuasive impact and to improve his brand. People latched onto the absurd 98% number and attacked it, while unconsciously moving closer towards Adams position. Adams notes that Trump uses it continuously. Trump calls to “Build the Wall and make Mexico pay for it”. He makes an aggressive initial demand, almost cartoonishly so. (Link has example of aggressive initial demand)

This activates stage 2, which occurred on a nationwide level. We discussed the practicalities of building a wall until our faces turned blue. How stupid could Trump be to think it would be reasonable to build a wall across the whole border? How stupid could Trump be to think Mexico would pay for it? Or how brilliant is Trump, maneuvering the whole national conversation from should we have more border security to how much of it should we have and how should it be paid for? This is only a taste of the tricks that Scott Adams covers in the book.

Adams believes that Trump is a “Master Persuader”. He has immense discipline to turn any situation in front of him into an opportunity to press his point home by framing the situation in his favor. He grades himself as a “commercial grade” persuader, good enough to make money with his skills.

Being persuasion makes the world a better place. Convincing the boss to adopt the new technology or a community to believe in itself is genuine improvement. Even seeking to make yourself more persuasive by improving your personal aesthetics makes the more beautiful.

We use persuasion. Whether we attempt to make the sale, determine the software approach to solve an issue, or convince your spouse to take out the trash it doesn’t really matter. The same patterns exist because we are all human. Persuasion may be the one truly “portable” skill.

Where I disagreed

Scott Adams claims that Trump could have won from the left with a Bernie Sanders style approach. Scott thinks that Trump was important to his victory, but the his ideas were not. This is where I differ with Adams. While Trump is a brilliant marketer, he also hit a weak point in the American system. American sovereignty flows from the media and Universities (the Cathedral) down. This is an unstated sovereignty, but by watching the flow of popular opinion (in a democracy, power) it predictably travels out of the Cathedral and into the rest of the population. The left dominates the American power structure. Outside of the military, almost every governmental, academic, and media position is held by someone left of centre. There is a great deal more -establishment- power on the left than on the right. Look at how easily Hillary crushed Bernie. She hardly tried. The DNC has the “super delegate” system, which allows the party establishment to make a stronger stand against a insurgent campaign. CNN cheated with Hillary by sharing debate questions with her ahead of time. The right is far more disordered. The centers of power consist of Fox News (Trump brushed Fox easily), talk radio, and not much else. The right is a much more fertile ground for a strong persuader like Trump to rise.

This point is a minor quibble on the topic of Trump, but a major disagreement on how future “Master Persuaders” can rise to power.