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The Science of Success with Eric Barker [Episode 682]

Eric Barker, author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong, joins me on this episode.


  • Do we live better lives as outliers or at the middle of the bell curve? Outliers are very different. Gautam Mukunda of HBS studied leaders for effectiveness and divided them into two groups — filtered and unfiltered (outsiders).
  • Awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses allows you to navigate with and around them.
  • Metrics in Sales are built from non-existent averages. No one actually performs at the average. What are the fundamental differences between the poor and the excellent? They share some traits.
  • Mukunda studied intensifiers, such as stubbornness — a bad trait for a litigator and a good trait for an entrepreneur. We call stubbornness ‘grit’ in an entrepreneur. Negatives are positives, in the right arena.
  • In a study by Karen Arnold at Boston College, High school valedictorians are shown to do very well in life but they generally did not reach the heights of success. Grades in school measure conscientiousness, not rule-breaking.
  • Strict processes protect against downside risk, but also against great achievements. Top performers have already been vetted for excellence and have earned a measure of self-direction.
  • If you are optimized for conditions right now, you will not be optimized for the next coming paradigm shift. Try new things and expand yourself to catch the next wave. Make yourself relevant by learning something about everything.
  • Eric’s book has a section about changing your story. The story you tell yourself is critical. Consider yourself to be the hero. James Pennebaker of UTA has people sit down and write their stories. They start feeling better.
  • There is always another way to view the same events. Is your story optimistic or pessimistic? Don’t accept other people’s versions of your story. Take control of your own story.
  • Tim Wilson of UVA studied how to change people’s stories. If you start volunteering weekly, it becomes hard to tell yourself you are a terrible person. See yourself as a person with a certain behavior and it is a ‘given.’
  • BJ Fogg of Stanford talks about minimum viable effort. To start flossing your teeth, start out by flossing one tooth, every day. Then, start flossing two teeth. When that is established, start flossing your whole mouth.
  • Sir David Brailsford, manager of Team Sky winner of the Tours de France six out of the last seven years, talks about the aggregation of marginal gains. Do every single thing pertaining to racing a bike just 1% better.