Once upon a time a famous cartoonist held a mirror up to society and said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” That was Walt Kelly in the legendary comic strip Pogo. Today, another famous cartoonist has released a book that takes that message and gives society and individuals the tools to do something about it.
“Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America” is the new book by Scott Adams who broke out of the corporate cubicle world to create Dilbert and point out the foibles and fallacies of the world of work. What a lot of people don’t know about Adams is that he is a lot more than just one of the best-selling cartoonists of all time. He has become a sought-after public speaker and political commentator. He is an engineer, a hypnotist, and an expert on persuasion techniques. He has authored a bunch of books, has an MBA from the prestigious Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and he has even launched a high-tech startup company. He regularly faces down armies of Internet trolls online who jump at the chance to criticize him.
All of that background makes him more than qualified to explore common thinking flaws that pervade our modern world and exacerbate the divisions in our society while making it harder and harder for us to tackle the problems we face. Loserthink is the term he gives to thinking that is lazy, counter-productive or full of problems such as confirmation bias even though the people doing the thinking sincerely believe they are employing reason, facts, and common sense. He talks about reasoning techniques used by engineers, scientists, economists, historians, politicians, Internet trolls, and folks like you and me, and how easily we all can go wrong.
But rather than just pointing fingers to ridicule bad behavior, as he does so well in his daily Dilbert cartoons, Adams in this book gives you a whole tool kit to help you avoid mental prisons and falling into the trap of loserthink. It’s a recipe for getting ahead in your business, career, or personal life. I especially like the section with suggestions on how to deal with Internet trolls who frequently apply misguided arguments and faulty logic to press a point, much to the irritation of the original poster.
The book is the kind you want to give to all sorts of people (friends, enemies, and relatives), but you worry they’ll get the wrong message. “Are you accusing me of loserthinking,” they might think or ask. But actually that’s one of the issues Adams raises in the book, noting that human beings are terrible mind readers but they continue to jump to all sorts of conclusions based on what they believe someone else is thinking. I don’t think there is anyone who will seriously read this book and not recognize themselves somewhere in its pages. Adams freely admits he is guilty of many of the loserthink things he talks about, but knowing how to recognize them helps him and anyone else to cut down on the flawed thinking.
This isn’t a Dilbert cartoon book, although there are a few Dilbert strips sprinkled through it to help make points. Some of it is quite serious. Adams reveals embarrassing moments and health crises he’s had to deal with. Without overtly taking sides, he uses common political hot-button topics such as climate change, gun control, abortion, and fake news to illustrate loserthinking on all sides of these issues and how that keeps us from making progress. He even highlights new technology and practices that he thinks have the potential to improve our lives, tackle major problems, and bring on a new Golden Age if we can just break out of our mental cages.
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