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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong Hardcover – May 16, 2017
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"There's a reason that some of the smartest people I know read Eric Barker religiously. This book is a long time coming and I am glad it's here." (Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is The Way and Ego is the Enemy)
From the Back Cover
Much of the advice we’ve been told about achievement is logical, earnest . . . and downright wrong.
In Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker reveals the extraordinary science behind what actually determines success and—most important—how anyone can achieve it. You’ll learn:
- Why valedictorians rarely become millionaires, and how your biggest weakness might actually be your greatest strength
- Whether nice guys finish last, and why the best lessons about cooperation come from gang members, pirates, and serial killers
- Why trying to increase confidence fails, and how Buddhist philosophy holds a superior solution
- The secret ingredient to “grit” that Navy SEALs and disaster survivors leverage to keep going
- How to find work-life balance using the strategy of Genghis Khan, the errors of Albert Einstein, and a little lesson from Spider-Man
By looking at what separates the extremely successful from the rest of us, we learn what we can do to be more like them—and find out in some cases why it’s good that we aren’t. Barking Up the Wrong Tree draws on startling statistics and surprising anecdotes to help you understand what works and what doesn’t so you can stop guessing at success and start living the life you want.
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Like Dale Carnegie, Eric Barker uses so many stories, book references and great quotations to make his points across. There are stories such as how a poor boy in Mexico can become a world class neuro surgeon, how a clinically crazy person can win the enduring Race Across America, or how can an illiterate person in a horrible time and place and without proper education can conquer more land in 25 years than the Romans ever did in 400 years. There are also eye opening stories of how trust is completely lost in a Moldovan culture, how crimes create street gangs (and not the other way around) for protection, and how surprisingly civilised and organised pirates were.
The author then back them up with numerous scientific findings to validate the points he is making, just like the approach of Daniel Kahneman. For example, there are scientific explanations on why some people never quit, why people have depression, and why people commit suicide. Moreover, there are explanations on why high achievers can sometimes have anxiety problem or even depression, why the number ones in high school (the valedictorians) so rarely become the number ones in real life, why beautiful people normally becomes more successful, why nice guys finish first and last (and not in the middle), and why high achievers are rarely active in their social media accounts.
Along the way we'll learn so many amusing facts, such as how an IQ of 120 does not make much difference than 180, 2 and a half to 4 hours after we wake up is when our brains is at its sharpest, how Hedonic Adaptation explains why after a brief change everything change back to baseline (e.g. on diet and clean behaviour), how viagra started out as a medicine for angina that had a serendipitous "side effect", that the US once had an (almost official) emperor, Emperor Norton I.
And we'll also gain some great wisdom like "sometimes an ugly duckling can be a swan if it finds the right pond" or "life is noisy and complex, and we don't have perfect information about others and their motives. Writing people off can be due to just lack of clarity", or "things aren't as scary when we have our hands on the wheels."
All of these wealth of information are then knitted nicely to become the central theme of the book: to discover the core determinants of success, through considering both sides of the argument with extreme stories and scientific facts.
In each individual chapters the book then provide concluding analysis, such as the importance of quiting something that is not good for you to make room and time for something good for you, the scientific explanation on luck as a function of choice, the disadvantages dreaming will cause on your wellbeing, effort and reality, the best predictor of our child's emotional well-being is whether they knew their family history, the importance of sleep and self-compassion, and many more.
The author also gives us so many practical tools for us to work out the determinant factors for succcess, on our own unique way, such as Shawn Anchor's "twenty second rule", Cal Newport's "shutdown ritual", how to skillfully and sincerely use our network, figuring out whether we're filtered or unfiltered leader, the importance of setting a parameter in a negotiation, and the findings of Robert Epstein research on how to reduce stress, among many others.
All in all, this book is the most complete analysis for its subject, using unorthodox approach and very amusing wide range of information that makes it very fun to read. What Freakonomics did for economics, Why Do Men Have Nipples? did for medicine, and Moonwalking With Einstein did with memory, Barking Up the Wrong Tree does it brilliantly with exploring the keys for success in the real world. I couldn't recommend it more.
This book is different. If you’re serious about living a life that’s more like the one you want to live, you should read this book. Before I tell you why, let me tell you something about me so you can judge my recommendations.
I’m 71 years old, and for more than half a century, I’ve been working on making myself and my life better. I’ve learned a lot by getting it wrong and then adjusting, and I’ve learned a lot by reading and talking to other people and trying things. As a result, I’ve read a lot of books about how to do life better and this is one of the best. Early in the book, Eric Barker says this:
“You’ve been told about all the qualities and tactics that will help you get where you want to go, but there’s no real proof – and perhaps you’ve seen plenty of exceptions. That’s what we’re going to look at in this book.”
Barker keeps his promise in six focused chapters. Chapter 1 is about whether playing it safe produces success. Chapter 2 deals with whether nice guys finish last or first. In Chapter 3, he looks at the emerging science of resilience, starting with Navy SEAL training. I bet you’ve never thought of SEAL training as a game, but you might after you read this. Chapter 4 addresses the issue of whether success is based on what you know or who you know. Chapter 5 is all about attitude. Chapter 6 is a step back to review the big picture.
Barker makes another promise early in the book. He promises that in each chapter he’ll review both sides of the issue. He keeps that promise and it’s one of the reasons why this is a great and helpful book.
This book was valuable to me for several reasons. Here they are.
Barker does what many great business and self-help authors do. He states things that you could not have articulated before but seem obvious once he says them. One thing like that for me was the fact that the major reason people don’t get enough sleep is that they spend the time working. He also adds detail and insight to things I already knew.
I knew that turning challenges into games was a good thing and it’s a technique I’ve used for years, but I didn’t know much of the science behind it until I read this book. In fact, this book has the best short summary I’ve come across of how to use game elements to make your life and work experience better.
Barker reframed things that I already knew. I knew, for example, that the beginnings and endings of things are perceived as important. I used that to design speeches and training programs. After reading this book, I’m thinking about the same thing when I plan my day. There’s a bit of science about why your mood in the morning can affect your whole day. And more about ending the day right.
There are also things here that I’d already discovered for myself over the last several decades. Among them are the facts that naps can greatly improve performance and that relationships are the key to a satisfying life. There’s also the idea that saying “no” is a critical skill if you want to be as successful as possible. There’s material on why making progress every day and seeking out small wins is both a good strategy and emotionally satisfying.
There were also some things that were brand-new to me. I learned about self-compassion and it’s something that I will try to use in my life. Barker told me about the research that supports the idea that we don’t do the things that make us the happiest naturally. Instead, we do what’s easy. And he introduced me to the idea of intensifiers, traits that are mostly negative but can be huge performance enhancers in certain situations.
In addition to covering both sides of several important issues, Barker does a magnificent job of connecting the dots. As you move through the book you will find that things discussed in early chapters will make another visit in later chapters.
Toward the end of the book he puts together a framework for creating a successful life. I’ve used several of these frameworks in my life to evaluate how things were going and to get ideas for what improvements I should prioritize. Generally, they had more than four issues. His four are happiness (enjoying), achievement (winning), significance (counting to others), and legacy. A single word for legacy is extending, but I find his definition much more helpful: “Establishing your values or accomplishments in ways that help others find future success.”
Barking Up the Wrong Tree is a book which will help you do better at work and in life.
What do I like about the book? First, it’s full of great stories that stay with you. There’s James Waters with his mental strategies that got him through Navy SEAL training, a Harvard MBA, and a White House job. There’s Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, the illegal Mexican migrant worker boy who became a world-renowned neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. There’s Spencer Glendon with the debilitating ulcerative colitis that became a world-class money manager anyway. Dozens of vivid, funny, inspiring stories of ingenuity, grit, and optimism here.
Second, Barker amply supports all recommendations with research findings. So you will learn fascinating, counterintuitive concepts from social psychology, behavioral economics, game theory, neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary biology. It reminds me of Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, another great book that's full of ingenious mindhacks.
Third, it's full of usable unconventional wisdom. Were pirates the progressives of their day? Why do so few valedictorians become millionaires? Why do jerks succeed? (Hint: they ask for what they want and self-promote to their bosses.) Reading no single book will turn you into an overnight success, but this one has a lot of signposts for living a happier, more fulfilling life. You'd be wise to read and share it.
-- Dr Ali Binazir, Happiness Engineer and author of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible the #1-rated dating book on Amazon for 4+ years