Barking up the Wrong Tree is a book by Eric Barker. This book was one of the most recommended books from 2017. The author also runs a blog by the same name.

Chapter 1

Should We Play It Safe and Do What We’re Told If We Want to Succeed?

Nobody in this world likes to feel pain. But pain is inevitable when we get hurt. How good would it be if we could get the ability to not feel any pain at all? Does such ability exist in this world? Yes, there are people in this world who do not feel any kind of pain at all. By seeing them from our perspective, they look like superhumans. But this superhuman ability is actually a disease named Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIP). The patients suffering from this disease live a very hard life, they get burnt, they break their bones, they get scars but remain unaware of their injuries. Therefore they fail to treat their injuries and make them worse.

Being in complete pain is bad and not feeling the pain at all is also bad. By this logic, we can say that having extreme qualities is not good for us. An average of such qualities is more beneficial for us. But is it true?

Our schools teach us to be an average. We are made to study many different subjects and we are expected to excel in all of them. Students who are able to know all the subjects very well are rewarded with good grades. But there is the other side of the coin as well. Real life does not reward you for being average. If you want to succeed, you need to be an expert at something. Also, researchers suggest that students performing excellently in academics are not visionaries. They may be successful in their professional life but they are not creative.

Gautam Mukunda from Harvard, in his study, divided great leaders into two categories– Formal Leaders and Informal Leaders. Formal leaders are those who come from our school like formal system. These formal leaders came to the top by following rules. And Informal Leaders are those who did not follow rules and regulations to reach the top. College dropouts who found companies like Apple and Microsoft are informal leaders. In his study, he found that they were informal leaders who did something groundbreaking in their career, not the leaders who came from Ivy League colleges. Also, if you see Forbes 400 list, you will see that informal leaders have many times greater net worth than formal leaders.

So what makes these informal leaders better than the formal leaders? They all had Intensifiers, the qualities which are generally seen as bad but turn out to be good in some situations. For example, would you like to be a person with your upper body too long, legs too short, hands and feet too big and gangly arms? No, isn’t it? But Michel Phelps is a person who was born with this body type and it became a blessing for him. Such body type is best for swimming and therefore it helped him to win numerous Olympic medals. Similarly, Glenn Gould‘s extreme eccentricities kept him away from the world and helped him practice and become a great musician.

So in the right environment, bad can be too good and odd can be beautiful. A knife can be a murderous weapon or a helpful tool to cook dinner for your family. Therefore if you are a person with some extremely bad qualities then try to find situations where your qualities can be used as your strength. You have to build your own path and you are made to do so. In this way, you can be an unfiltered leader.

But don’t worry if you are better while you are following rules. A research by Gallup says that the more time you spend in doing something that you are good at the less stressed you feel. So, find an organization which is aligned with your signature strengths. If you are at the right place with right qualities, you will flourish automatically.

Chapter 2

Do Nice Guys Finish Last?

Michael Swango, a serial killer, killed hundreds of people but remained untouched for a long long time. He was in the medical profession and he used to poison patients to death. He was once seen by a nurse while he was poisoning the IV of a patient, the nurse reported the hospital authority and at that moment everyone discovered that Michael Swango is a serial killer. Now, you may be thinking that after this incident he must have been acquitted, but sadly this was not the case. The hospital management thought if this news gets spread in the media then the reputation of the hospital will get tarnished. With this fear, they did not reveal the psychological conditions of Michael to anybody and he continued to work for a long time. This helped him to commit even more murders and Swango ended up killing more than 100 innocent people. And here the theory of karma and good deeds collapses.

It is also observed that in Office Politics, all that works is Visibility. More than working hard, it is more important that your boss thinks that you are working hard. If you are working very hard but nobody knows about it then why would anybody appreciate you? It is also seen that more than hard workers, the employees hungry for power get ahead in their career at a fast pace. So in this scene also, being the nice guy backfired.

So should you be the nice guy? Definitely yes, because all the above scenarios work only in short-term. In the long run, the nice guy wins. Let us see how?

There are three kinds of people, the Givers, the Matchers and the Takers.

The Takers- The Takers are the selfish kind of people. They are more interested in exploiting others. They are least interested in reciprocating the favors of others. In the short term, they gain an advantage over others as everyone is a resource for them to exploit. But in the long run, people around them understand their nature and start going away from them. As the time passes the number of friends who can help them gets lesser and lesser.

The Givers- The givers are the holiest of men. Whenever you ask them for help, they are ready, even when they can’t afford to help you. They are the most helpful people and many of their friends remain indebted to them because of the favors they have done for them. Some givers succeed but some get exploited a lot. More on it later.

The Matchers- The matchers show a balanced behavior. When someone helps them, they make sure that they help him back whenever he needs it. But the problem with them is that they wait for someone else to initiate a good act. They are also protective for givers and protect them whenever Takers try to exploit them.

It is seen that in the long run, the Takers are least successful because of the reason I already explained above The Matchers fall in the average category. The Givers are either very successful or very unsuccessful. The Givers who are always giving, even to the takers who have been exploiting them for a long time,  end up to be unsuccessful. But the givers who are prudent enough to realize that they are being exploited end up being very successful.

So nice guys do not finish last!

Chapter 3

Do Quitters Never Win And Winners Never Quit?

Grit- Sticking to something, working hard and not quitting.

Grit is the key to success, almost everyone will agree with this.But why isn’t everyone gritty even after knowing this? Well, Grit comes down to your attitude in life, whether you are an optimist or pessimist?

In our mind, we speak between 300-1000 words per minute to ourselves. These words can be either positive or negative. If these words are often positive then we are optimists otherwise we are pessimists. How does it make sense?

If you say negative words like “I cant do it” or “I am an unlucky person” or any similar words then you are bound to feel helpless. Whereas, nothing can stop you from being confident if you say the opposite words to yourself.

But how does optimism brings success? The answer is quite simple. When you try to do something, again and again, there are chances that one of your trials will succeed. But when you stop trying altogether, then from where can you expect success?

So how can you turn yourself from a pessimist to an optimist? By controlling what you are telling yourself in your mind. The story you tell about yourself to your brain will decide your behaviour in your actions. If you believe you are ‘destined to do something big’, ‘you are a great person’, ‘you are born to bring a change in people’s lives’, and things like that, then in difficult situations you will act accordingly. But if your stories will be opposite, then you will do nothing and failure is inevitable.
Remember Grandma Whitney about whom we talked in Awaken the Giant Within Summary? You need to take some inspiration from her.

Games can also be a source of grit for you. Research shows that an average gamer fails 80% of the times while playing a game. But still, he does not get discouraged, on the contrary, he enjoys failing. These games are extremely difficult and repetitive. But this fact also doesn’t make a gamer quit. Isn’t it a strong grit?

So what is so special about games that they make us gritty even in difficulty? Well, first of all, games are merely a framework superimposed over a set of activities. While playing a game we are telling ourselves a different story about what is happening, like saving a princess or killing dragons. All the kinds of games have some common elements- they are winnable, they have novel challenges and goals and they provide feedback in the form of score and rewards.

While playing a game, the story which we tell ourselves is a fun story. A superimposed framework brings an element of difficulty in the game. But you have a clear idea that this game is winnable. Whenever you reach the next level you get newer challenges and goals. And the result comes in front of you as soon as the level is passed or you fail. All these characteristics make a game so interesting to us that our grit becomes effortless.

If we talk about our life then we are doing the same old work which we have been working for such a long time that they are not at all difficult for us. The rewards of those tasks have become so common that they don’t feel like rewards at all. Once in a year, you get your performance review in office, making the feedback very late. All these characteristics make our life a dull and a non-challenging game which has no fun in it.

How can we bring the elements of games in our life so that we can become gritty without efforts? Try new things to face new challenges, have a clear goal so that the game becomes winnable, take constant feedback from your seniors on your work, try gaining new skills and start treating your life as a game.

Chapter 4

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know (Unless It Really Is What You Know)

This chapter starts with introversion and extroversion. Since we have already covered a whole book on this topic in the form of The Introvert Advantage Summary, therefore it would be smart to not waste time by discussing the same topic again.

Extroverts are naturally good at making friends but for introverts, networking can be very difficult. But the problem is that it is very important to have a big network. The advantages of a big network are many-

  • You are more likely to know about new opportunities when you have a big network.
  • Getting a job is easier when you have many connections.
  • Even if you are a drug dealer, you are less likely to go to prison if you have a lot of trustworthy friends.
  • You will be the last person to know about what is happening in the office if you do not talk to many people.
  • You are less likely to be happy if you have fewer friends in your workplace.

Even when introverts know that networking is beneficial, still they cannot do it. The idea of making friends just to get profit looks awkward to introverts. So how can introverts make friends without feeling awkward? Here are some tips-

  • We have already seen the how givers make friends in the previous chapter. So be a giver and you will make friends naturally. Give without expecting anything in return.
  • While talking to someone, find similarities between you and the other person. When two people find that they have similar interest then they become friends in short amount of time. Talking to each other becomes effortless when the topic is known to both of you.
  • Meet with the friends of your existing friends.
  • Join groups of your interest. Like book reading club, spirituality group etc.

You should also read the summary of How To Win Friends And Influence People. This book is seen as the best book to learn how to make friends.

Chapter 5

Believe in Yourself… Sometimes

The biggest chess player of his time lost a match with a computer for the first time in 1997. It was the famous Deep Blue vs Garry Kasparov match. It was said that the match was lost because the machine made some moves which were so brilliant that the legendary player could not understand them. It was the machine which was stronger than the man.

But after 15 years it was revealed that the moves which led to the victory of the machine were not brilliant in any way. In fact, those were just some random moves which were caused by some bug in the machine. Gary thought that the machine is more intelligent than him, and so he lost his confidence. Due to this loss of confidence, he made some improper moves and lost the match. Later it was also said that results could have been better, but he felt he was already beaten and resigned. So, can the lack of confidence make you unsuccessful?

It is seen that-

  • Successful people are confident.
  • With more and more success, they become more and more confident.
  • Overconfidence increases productivity because you start taking more challenging tasks and you become a star in your workplace.
  • Overconfident people have more chances of getting a promotion than people who have actually achieved more.
  • When you behave confidently then others start perceiving you as a leader.
    Successful people become more confident because they see their past performance as a validation of who they are. This brings optimism in them which is already a factor for success.
  • The people who believe that they can succeed see opportunities, where others see threats.

But then there are some harmful effects of overconfidence also. Because overconfidence is nothing but just a lie. In a way, you are telling yourself a fake story to your brain. As we have seen that our mind starts believing whatever we tell it about ourselves, as a result, we also start believing in our own lies. Then emerge situations like the one which occurred with Master Yanagi Ryukerin. He forgot that what he believes may be a truth for himself but in the real world it will remain a lie.

Then there are some more negative aspects of overconfidence also-

  • You become more selfish with it.
  • You are more likely to commit infidelity.
  • You start living in denial.
  • We stop looking for new ideas.

So, which path should we choose now? Well, what works better than under-confidence and overconfidence is self-compassion. With self-compassion, neither you have to be a delusional jerk nor you have to feel incompetent. You will see the world with an unbiased view. When problems emerge, you will look into them with a problem-solving attitude. When you fail, you accept that you are not perfect and also try to improve your shortcomings. You become kind not only to yourself but also to others. Therefore don’t worry about confidence, just learn self-compassion.