Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Summary by Eric Barker (2017)
ISBN: 9780062416049
–Review by Douglas Balzer


Wrong assumptions, mistaken, misleading, or misguided we have all come to the wrong conclusion about other people. It can be an embarrassing and humiliating experience. The metaphor of barking up the wrong tree applies to this experience. We all must be honest and admit we have barked up the wrong tree.
The author Eric Barker (no pun intended with the last name) writes, “We spend too much time trying to be ‘good’ when good is often merely average. To be great, we must be different. More often being the best means just being the best version of you.”
What I found reading Barking Up the Wrong Tree turns the conventional advice on its head. For example, looking at both sides of familiar arguments for peoples success, like confidence, extroversion, or being kind, the author has reached the conclusions it is definitely other influences deciding if we win or lose, and unexpectedly we control more of them than we think.
Illustrating this we find self-deprecating humor is a terrific way to start anything: a talk, a YouTube video, a relationship, a standup comedy routine, and, in Eric’s case, even a blog. When Eric Barker studied Japanese in college, he learned on the first day of class that his last name means “idiot.” Wow, how do you respond to finding out your name means “idiot” in another language. My personal experience with my Hispanic friends is if you annunciate my shortened version of my first name, Doug, it sounds like “dog” in Spanish. It has become a nickname for amongst my friends. But I did like Eric. He took what most would have made as an offense, he took as an opportunity for the perfect icebreaker? It works. So, after a decade of blogging, his blog still reads “I am an idiot” in Japanese: bakadesuyo.
Eric’s behavior has provided him with the fodder to publish his first book, Barking Up The Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong. In his book, he shares, a collection of his most surprising lessons.
So, if you are feeling lost in a sea of confusing advice, here is a more balanced perspective that helps you consider your own wants and needs!
Lesson 1: How good your grades are only predicted one of your abilities, and it is not one that matters in the real world.
Most people envy the valedictorian at the high school graduation, the one who gets to give the commencement speech. They are usually top of their class, and most of their fellow students expect them to have unprecedented success in life. It is rarely the case.
A study by Boston College tracked 81 valedictorians after their graduation in 1981. 15 years later, they worked hard and learned a lot, but not even one changed the world in earth-shattering ways. Now, contrast with the surprisingly large number of college dropouts on the Forbes 400 list, and an idea starts to emerge that maybe being good in school doesn’t matter so much, after all. Oh, I can hear it now so many people cringing after reading this line. I must admit, after 12 years of college and university, there is some truth to Eric’s assertion.
Now, it is crucial to know Eric would undoubtedly agree, as performing well on any kind of standardized test, whether it’s in high school, college, a job interview, or elsewhere, only proves one thing: you’re good at following rules. Our education system turns people into excellent sheep, not necessarily outstanding thinkers.
The real question is, what do you need to succeed in the real world, then? Eric says it is a mix of creativity, passion, obsession, vision, and commitment. He addresses the fact life is messy, so you need a lot of perseverance to see your goals through because life rarely goes according to your plan.
Lesson 2: Extroverts are likely to earn more, but it is easier for introverts to become experts in their fields.
Beyond grades, there is the introvert vs. extrovert debate. It is a huge topic when it comes to personal success. Some argue, “your network is your net worth,” while others celebrate introverts’ capacities for single-tasking. So, which one is it? Honestly, the answer is not so black and white; it is a whole bunch of grays.
Both introversion and extroversion have something going for them. Yes, extroverts tend to make, on average, slightly more money. For example, people who occasionally go out for a social drink earn up to 14% more. If you enjoy people’s company, you will naturally form more relationships, you make friends more quickly, and tend to end up with a better network.
Introverts, well, it is a different story. They are more likely to become an expert in their field. Why? Since they spend more time in private, it is easier for them to put in the hours they need to develop profound domain ability. This holds true even for more extroverted activities, such as sports. A surprising statistic is 89% of top athletes are introverts.
Once again, what matters is not what is better, but that you know who you are, so you can act so.
Lesson 3: Working more works, there is no denying that.
Work has been, and always will be, the one variable you fully control.
How talented you are, how many lucky breaks you catch, what your circumstances are, your impact on these are limited. Unquestionably, you can move, change friends, and switch jobs, but beyond that, what is left? Putting in the time. But you should know even IQ has diminishing returns, according to the author. A University of Lausanne study found people’s capacity for good leadership did not just level off, but declines as their IQ went beyond 120 points.
Nevertheless, according to another study, the top 10% of workers in complex jobs create eight times as much valuable output as the bottom 10%. Some of this can be attributed to intelligence, being gifted, etc., it is the result of hours of work and learning the rhythm of the job.
Now, whether this insight puts a lid on your productivity, because you have family commitments, for example, or is a baseline for flourishing, as you currently have lots of time, you can use it to make better choices in the realm of life’s tradeoffs in a deliberate fashion. Barking Up the Wrong Tree is the book to help you along in the journey.
A final takeaway –
The author Eric Baker is dedicated to helping people to be their best. He takes a refreshing approach where he weighs the pros and cons of success myths and realities and brings you to the sweet spot. Our reality is life is not black and white but filled with more muted colors and gray areas. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Eric Barker’s book Barking Up the Wrong Tree and take advantage of his experiences. I think you will find it worth the investment.
Now, may you live your best life!