More than anyone else besides the man himself, Dilbert creator Scott Adams gained notoriety from Donald Trump’s “unexpected” election win. Not only did Scott Adams expect it, he called it before anyone else, saying Trump had a 98% chance of winning in the summer of 2015. As it turns out, that 98% number was deliberately chosen…
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 celebrity’s irrelevant opinion. But if I make you pause to argue with me in your mind about the accuracy of the 98% estimate, it deepens my persuasion on the main point – that Trump has a surprisingly high likelihood of winning.
I picked 98% as my Trump prediction because Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com was saying 2%. I did that for branding and persuasion purposes. It is easier to remember my prediction both because of the way it fits with Silver’s prediction and for its audacity, which people perceived as “wrongness.” the prediction was designed to attract attention, and it did. It was also designed to pair my name with Nate Silver’s name to raise my profile by association. That worked too. Social media folks mentioned me in the same sentence with Silver countless times during the election, exactly as I had hoped. And my mention raised my importance as a political observer because I was being compared with someone already important in that field. – pg 20-21
Persuasion tip 1 – use percentages when making a point. It acts in a way that assumes the sale and draws more attention.
Scott Adams’ Win Bigly is all about persuasion. It’s about the persuasion talent that he saw in Donald Trump and how you can use the same methods to become a “master persuader” yourself.
You’ll find that Win Bigly overlaps with Stumped a lot in its material. Win Bigly adds on to Stumped by offering a trained hypnotist’s perspective to the race (there’s an entire chapter on what hypnosis can and can’t do). Stumped devotes its latter chapters to analyzing “the moment,” the audience that Donald Trump was trying to persuade. Win Bigly complements that analysis with subtleties of persuasion that only someone who’s been doing it for decades would understand.
What do people really care about?
This is the biggest question in persuasion, isn’t it? I’m sure you think that you care about facts, but ponder this for a second. Have you persuaded anyone to change their mind about something important by listing facts? Have your feelings on something important ever changed with facts alone, or did it take you some time and action to change them?
Instead, people are more influenced by the direction of things instead of where things currently are. Your attention will focus on where you think things are going and you’ll act accordingly.
Scott Adams says that Donald Trump uses directional persuasion in the following three steps…
- 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. – pg. 23
For example, Donald Trump was an extreme hardliner on immigration during the campaign – wall across the entire border, deporting all illegal immigrants, etc. He made it even more visceral when he launched his campaign by saying Mexico was dumping its rapists onto the United States. The net effect of this, Scott Adams says, was to make Donald Trump the only game in town on the issue while raising the public’s perception of the importance of border security because of how much attention was being paid to it. By the end of the campaign, everyone was assuming there would be some kind of wall and that border security mattered. The flow of illegal immigrants even slowed to a trickle for a while early in Trump’s presidency.
You’ll notice that this is exactly the same thing that I call the domination of conversational space in Stumped. It’s all about making your message impossible to ignore so that everything else in the conversational space is orbiting around you.
Persuasion tip 2 – Make claims that are directionally true but feel free to exaggerate the details. That way, people will spend more time and energy on your claims. Fact checkers never persuade anybody with facts alone. People are driven by stories.
Win Bigly goes into length about the efficacy or lack thereof of different kinds of persuasion. Scott Adams says that people are mostly visual creatures. That’s our primary way of making sense of the world.
Trump could have simply said he wanted better immigration control, but that would not have been good visual persuasion. Concepts without images are weak sauce. So instead, Trump sold us a mental image of a “big, beautiful wall.” He said “wall” so many times that we all started to picture it. Before long, we started seeing artists’ renderings of potential walls. Even the opposition media started running videos of existing walls and walls in other countries.
The reason the wall imagery was good persuasion is that it was both simple to understand and memorable, compared with a generic concept such as “border control.” And it made us “think past the sale.” In other words, we reflexively assumed the wall would exist because we had imagined it so often and debated its costs. That’s one of a persuader’s most basic and well-known tricks: People automatically gravitate toward the future they are imagining most vividly, even if they don’t want the future they are seeing. – pg 138
There are other examples throughout Win Bigly, such as when Donald Trump talked about ISIS taking over the Vatican in an interview to avoid arguing against the Pope.
This is very much in line with the emphasis in benefits over features, which is another part where Win Bigly overlaps with Stumped. “Border control” is a feature. A wall to halt illegal immigration is a benefit.
If you’re selling skin clearing face cream to men, don’t talk only about how much brighter and healthier the skin will look. Talk about how it will make them more attractive to women. Put pictures of beautiful women running their hands on the men’s incredibly smooth faces in bed. Make men gravitate toward that vision, transferring all their mental energy to those images.
Persuasion tip 3 – If you want to get a point across and keep it prominent in the mind, put some kind of simple picture with the concept and focus on that.
Win Bigly also has a chapter on what Scott Adams calls a “persuasion stack.” Donald Trump’s use of the different kinds of persuasion vis a vis his opponents are also used. Fear is the strongest kind of influence. Word definitions are the weakest. Win Bigly goes over each rung of the ladder in detail.
Conclusion – why you should read Win Bigly
Scott Adams has a talent for making complicated concepts simple. That might be due to his business writing skills. Even compared to people like Robert Cialdini, his language is simple and easy to wrap your head around. There are few more relevant voices in Donald Trump’s era as president than Scott Adams, and you need to listen to him. If you want to sharpen your persuasion skills. This book is a must.
You’re probably sick of politics, just as I am. Thankfully, this isn’t a book about politics at all. It’s about 85% devoted to persuasion. The remaining 15% comprises funny anecdotes about Scott Adams’ wild 2016.
I know you’ve likely spotted something there, but saying that you’re persuasive actually makes you likelier to persuade others. Win Bigly will tell you more about that once you read it.