Barking Up the Wrong Tree

One of my biggest challenges as an information specialist (aka librarian) is identifying legitimate self-help books for business people and others that go beyond platitudes.

Eric Barker, author of “Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong” perfectly captures my struggle by identifying what works, and the research to back it up. His weekly web site,, has practical summaries for dealing with life issues. For example, his January 22, 2018 blog post was “This Is How To Overcome Anger: 5 Powerful Secrets From Mindfulness.” Barker pulls from several sources and includes suggestions such as identifying your triggers and breaking the process of becoming angry.

Chapters in his book identify tools for success from a variety different fields. Chapter 2 talks about “What You Can Learn About Trust, Cooperation and Kindness…from Gang Members, Pirates and Serial Killers.” Say what? While gang members are seen as lawless psychopaths, they know about trust and cooperation. Gangs in prison weren’t there for crime, but to protect their members while incarcerated. They realize the value of trust and cooperation. Gangs in prison start to look like well-run corporations. Abide by the rules, and everyone does better.

Or what about the saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Barker describes research showing that extroverts make more money, and their bad habits of partying and hanging out with others means they’re making more connections. Being extroverted helps you rise to the top because you’re likely to speak first and more frequently. They’re happier. Being extroverted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more intelligent. Remember the criminals mentioned above? Drug dealers with more connections made more money. Yikes.

But what if you’re an introvert? Where is your payoff? Barker found that introverted athletes who spend hours in solitary practice are more likely to break records. Musicians who spend hours playing their instruments improve their skills. Being introverted means better grades in school. Best investment bankers? Stable introverts.

Introverts are too often shamed for being who they are. Barker (a self-proclaimed introvert), reminds us to know who we are and stop trying to be something we’re not. His research on building relationships explore how to strategically make connections without that sleazy feeling of pushy networking. Introverts have interests; make connections with those who share similar interests and values. Think friendships.

Much of what Barker writes in his summaries and tips seem ridiculously simple, such as, “The most successful are always getting and receiving.” “In the end, it’s all about friendship,” and the like. What makes them compelling is the meticulous science and research he employs to back them up.

Would you rather be an extrovert or extrovert?

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