Barking Up the Wrong Tree Summary: Erick Barker

Barking Up the Wrong Tree Summary

Barking Up the Wrong Tree Summary provides a free book summary, key takeaways, insightful review, best quotes and author biography of Erick Barker’s book. This self-help style guide to a better career and life spans a considerable territory.

Erick Barker, the author of this Barking Up the Wrong Tree is also a lifestyle expert. He reels you in with extensive evidence for an option. But then, he sweeps the carpet off your feet with as much evidence for the alternatives. Be it playing straight and nice or manipulating like Machiavelli. Or, faking it till you make it. He gives research-based proof for all.  

This back-and-forth pattern continues for over 250 pages. It includes cases, stories, studies, and examples. For example, he suggests how to leave the unhealthy cycle of competition. Barker cites, “for each expert and study; there are equal and contrasting experts and studies.” Hence, read this guide with slight skepticism. Trust your reasoning as you determine what suits you. We recommend this Barking Up the Wrong Tree about make effective career choices. It would be useful for anyone who is just starting a career. 

This Summary Will Help You Learn

  • Why scientific studies about life choice are usually contrasting; 
  • Ways to balance life and work, and be successful in both; and 
  • How to divide efforts and time effectively to live a meaningful life.

“And knowing yourself, in terms of achieving what you want in life, means being aware of your strengths.”


  • Often, the disadvantages in one area imply advantages in other. 
  • Know your strengths. Then choose a career and a company which appreciates your contribution. 
  • Be nice, but not very nice. Try to be trusting. But strike back if someone attempts to step on you. 
  • Do not compete with others for success. Instead, define it for yourself. 
  • Quit unimportant activities. Instead, commit time and effort to the important stuff. 
  • Turn your job into a game. This may help you develop persistence. 
  • Socialize. Build connections. Develop relationships and networks needed to succeed.   
  • Pursue self-compassion. This blends the best of humility and confidence. 
  • When prominence is your aim, be ready to commit your life to work.  
  • For a good career and good life, seek balance in the 4-metrics which matter most. These are happiness, significance, accomplishment, and legacy.

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree Summary

Yin and Yang – Opposite Life Choices 

High school toppers do well in life and college. Most get graduate degrees. Nearly, half of them get great jobs. But, they hardly change the world. It is the rule breakers who shake up the world. A research of 700 U.S. millionaires shows they had an average grade point of 2.9.  

Outliers have distinct genes and methods. Their unique blend of personality attributes gives the world its greatest leaders and geniuses. They do suffer alcoholism, depression and violent behaviors. But, few factors which appear to be weaknesses sometimes turn into advantages. Take Olympic medalist Michael Phelps for example. On land, he looks out of proportion. But, his short legs, long arms, and big feet make him strangely aquatic. This is his perfect built which won him several gold medals in water. People who survive tragedies at a young age often achieve incredibly — for example, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, and Gandhi.  

Good luck often comes with bad fortune. When you follow one course, you forgo another. On taking a decision, you incur the opportunity cost. So, identify what you are good at. Then go wrong on the side of playing your advantages, instead of fighting the shortcomings. On finding your strengths and values, identify an organization which values them.  

“Nice Guys” 

In the short-run, people who are lazy and nasty do better than hard-workers. They flatter their bosses or leave a good impression otherwise. Nice guys are not paid as much. Nor are they selected for promotions. However, over-time those lazy jerks rub off on others. If they are not checked, people around them will also become selfish. As they say, a rotten apple spoils the whole basket. Even one lousy performer can reduce team performance by 1/3rd. Plus, if you go ahead with antisocial attitude, you destroy the conditions for success. You will also have turned other people against you. So, be nice. 

Niceness can be good for some. Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton. He found that the nice people he names “givers” either do well or poorly. The difference is in whether they maintain a healthy amount of skepticism. If you are helpful and trusting, yet cautious, you will succeed. But, avoid thinking in “zero-sum” terms. This way others’ wins are your losses.  

When you do not get the same treatment when you play nice, strike back. Collaborate, and all win. Cheat, and all lose. Consider the long-term by developing relations. Join companies and teams you hold in high regard. Blow your own trumpet gently, but loudly enough for others to appreciate your work. It will be easier for you to give when you like others. However, avoid giving too much. This will make you vulnerable. People may take advantage of you. Around two hours weekly helping is enough. Balanced givers are more successful and happier. 

“Studies show people with attention deficit disorder (ADD) are more creative.”


To build grit, convert your work into a game. Challenge yourself to attain bits of a bigger aim. Build a game out of it. Make it fund so that you want to come back for more. Develop the games with the help of these WGNF guidelines: 

    • Make them “Winnable” – 80% of the time, people tend to lose at properly-designed games. However, they continue in the hope that they can win. Many people do win. They know they will if they keep at it.  
    • Build in “Novelty” Good games bring in novel challenges at the correct time. They have different difficulty levels. Do not make a game which is impossible to win.  
    • Attach “Goals” – Set goals for the challenges you create. Consider video games which seize people with clear objectives and continuous feedback. They also have tough but attainable levels. 
  • Give “Feedback” – Games have your attention as they give constant feedback. Such feedback is important from your challenges. So, set objectives for your daily tasks against the bigger aim. 

Have “Grit,” but Know When to Quit 

Determination results in happiness and success. But, this does not imply that you must never give up. You have limited time and energy. Doing one thing implies not doing the other. Indeed, life is a set of trade-offs. Hence, engage in strategic quitting. This means intentionally doing less of one aspect to do more of the other.  

You might not be aware of what to focus your attention on. Hence, try out many things. Fail, learn fast and move on. Knowledge of when to leave and when to stick is not easily gained. While dating, you wonder if it is the right person to marry. Or if it is the right time to marry. Mathematicians say that your chances of finding soulmate are 1 in 10,000 lifetimes. In short-run, love marriages do better. However, their success disappears after a decade. In the long-run, arranged matches have a higher success rate. 


So, how to make a choice? The answer is in the WOOP process. That is, wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan. Dream of the aim you want to achieve outline the specific results you want. The, find out the obstacles on in your path. Finally, build a plan to beat them. This process is practical only when you set attainable goals. That is if you have the talent for the job or a way to get them. WOOP can be your wake-up call. So, are you doubtful of where to focus? Run your priorities through WOOP.  

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Extrovert or Introvert? 

For most careers, you must be social and extrovert, regardless of whether it comes naturally or not. Develop a strong social network of both distant and close friends. Extroverts and people having large networks accomplish more. They earn more and lead more meaningful lives even if they are only pretending to be extroverts. People who socialize, and make friends lead healthier and longer lives.  

Take Isaac Newton, for example. He is maybe the smartest person ever. He achieved everything on his own. Introverts are better in academics. They also reach specific levels in their area, be it math, science, or sports. Introverts tend to commit less adultery and fewer crimes. They do not lose much money. Their frequency of accidents is also less. Most of us are somewhere between extraversion and introversion. Either way, building networks is crucial unless you are Isaac Newton. 

Listen, Don’t Talk 

Make friends. Develop your connections by helping others. Listen, instead of talking always. Ask others for their ideas, advice, and opinions. Spend time to develop your network. Connect on social media. But, also meet others in person, or at least talk over the phone. Join book clubs, interest groups or other professional groups. You may also join a group of active, fit people if you want to improve your health. Do not run away from people at work. Those having large social groups get to know of opportunities sooner. They also get promotions faster.  

Be Confident with Caution

Successful people have more confidence. Hence, the more you attain success, the more confident you become. The more confident you are, the more you make money. Even if there is no basis for your confidence, it helps to have it. Faking confidence also pays off. This is especially true for leaders. They must always have an air of confidence around them. Smile as it makes you happy. Be optimistic about raising your odds of success. Strike power poses as they give you more confidence. However, be aware that the advantages of faking are not long-lasting. You are not only deceiving others but yourself too. Overconfidence can harm you — overconfident CEOs damage organizations. Influential people often lose empathy and tell more lies. They also tend to commit more betrayals.  

A little self-doubt and ambiguity make you listen more. They help you share credit. You tend not to act aggressively and are curious and open. Be humble as it enables you to avoid mistakes even if you are forced to be humbled by having to follow the rules. Yes, confidence is necessary but exercise it with caution. You are optimistic help. However, some dose of pessimism prevents you from committing silly mistakes. Find a balance. Do not exhibit confidence or self-doubt. Instead, improve your capability to forgive yourself. Self-compassion is a great way to feel good about oneself minus the arrogance. Humility and confidence make you more positive, stronger, wiser, and happier.    

Should You Work Insanely Hard or Settle for “Good Enough”? 

So, you have decided that you wish to lead your domain. Be ready for a lot of work and dedication. You will need all that it takes to reach a level of expertise. And even more to attain eminence. Smartness will not help you. Only long hours of hard work will pay off. This implies learning and being better at your own time. When you have picked a field of interest, hours of work do not seem taxing. The passion and significance of having an excellent job making your career choice very crucial. Especially, if you are a workaholic.  

By choosing wisely and being committed, you may become the best in your area. However, great accomplishments are not without any cost. A passion for a career usually results in broken relations. Be it with spouses, friends or children. But, achievers need to make such tough choices. Not everyone can have it both ways. When highly efficient people marry, their contributions and output drop. Therefore, expect it even though you are crazy about your work. And, when you dislike your job, you may suffer burnout.   

Reasonable working hours can also make you happy unless you want greatness similar to Mozart or Einstein. You can get more work done in less time — sleep enough. Or else, you will become a zombie, and your productivity will fall. “Success does not amount to happiness as much as happiness results in success.” Discover a career which interests you. But, avoid obsessing over it. Beat the competition by creating your objectives. Define what according to you is a personal success. Do not compare yourself with others. This way, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment and stress. 

“And knowing yourself, in terms of achieving what you want in life, means being aware of your strengths.”

The “Big Four” 

For a balanced life, commit your energy and time to the 4-metrics which matter: 

  1. “Happiness” – Endeavor to seek peace and satisfaction in your life. 
  2. “Achievement” – Strive to reach challenging and relevant goals.  
  3.  “Significance” – Make sure your actions leave a positive mark. 
  4.  “Legacy” – Lead your life in a way that it benefits others. 

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Take Control 

Manage your time well to get control over your life. Monitor where you are wasting time. Then use it more effectively by committing it to your big 4. Free up your time for things besides work.   

Do not make a to-do list. Instead, plan your day properly to do things. Develop “protected time” to concentrate on “meaningful work.” Spend very less time doing “shallow work” of calls, emails, and conferences. Get a peaceful place for your deep work. Decide when you want to leave your workplace on a day. Then ensure you do it on time. End the day by examining what your goals for the next day are.  

Barking Up the Wrong Tree Review 

This is an incredible read which ventures into what brings success in the practical world. I like how Barker moved beyond all the common psychology stuff. He put in a lot of effort in showing that all the “get it done,” “don’t call it quits till you achieve,” approach could be counterproductive sometimes. He uses the recipe for addressing most situations where one-size-fits-all approaches are not likely to work.  

The book is quite memorable, with great examples that ease the reader into all discussion. The author does what several great self-help authors do. He mentions things which you could not express before, but which appear discernible once he states them. He even adds details to stuff I already know. For example, I was aware that turning tasks into games was a great technique which I have employed for years. However, I did not know the science behind it until I read the book.  

Barker promised early in the book that in every chapter he would analyze both sides of an issue. He maintains that promise, and this is a major reason why this book is helpful and great. Besides discussing both sides of issues, Barker is excellent at connecting dots. As one moves through the book, they can see that things mentioned in the initial chapter make visits in later sections too.  

Barker supports all his recommendations with research-based evidence. Therefore, you will get to learn exciting, counterintuitive notions from multiple fields like game theory, social psychology, genetics, behavioral economics and so on. Reading a single book will not turn you into a success overnight, but this book has many signposts for leading a happier and worthwhile life. It is wise to read as well as share it.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree Quotes

“David Foster Wallace once said, “If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”  

“Jane McGonigal, a researcher and game designer, argues that by its very nature, efficiency entails removing game mechanics from the design of labor. In other words, we’re taking the fun out of it.” 

“Power has very negative effects on a person’s character. Power reduces empathy, makes us hypocritical, and causes us to dehumanize others.”  

“Jane McGonigal, a researcher and game designer, argues that by its very nature, efficiency entails removing game mechanics from the design of labor. In other words, we’re taking the fun out of it.”

“power have very negative effects on a person’s character. Power reduces empathy, makes us hypocritical, and causes us to dehumanize others.”
“Whiny neutered goats fly. Picture it in your mind. You’ve just learned what all good games have in common: WNGF. They’re Winnable. They have Novel challenges and Goals, and provide Feedback.”
“Ironically, even the most noted researcher in the field of grit, Angela Duckworth, agrees with this. In her paper “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals,” she says, “A strong desire for novelty and a low threshold for frustration may be adaptive earlier in life: Moving on from dead-end pursuits is essential to the discovery of more promising paths.”

“Economist Henry Siu said, “People who switch jobs more frequently early in their careers tend to have higher wages and incomes in their prime-working years. Job-hopping is actually correlated with higher incomes, because people have found better matches—their true calling.” And changing roles is far more likely to get you to a leadership position:”


“And knowing yourself, in terms of achieving what you want in life, means being aware of your strengths.”

“Studies show people with attention deficit disorder (ADD) are more creative.”

“And as a paper in American Psychologist showed, “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”

“You were successful because you happened to be in an environment where your biases and predispositions and talents and abilities all happened to align neatly with those things that would produce success in that environment.”

“As W. C. Fields once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again . . . then give up. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

“Oracle at Delphi. The Gospel of Thomas says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“The lesson from cases of people both keeping and losing their jobs is that as long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you.”

“Shawn Achor’s research at Harvard shows that college grades aren’t any more predictive of subsequent life success than rolling dice.”

“Are you a nice guy or gal who is having trouble processing all this bad news? Maybe that’s because not having a high status position at the office contributes to a reduction in executive function. Want that in English? Feeling powerless actually makes you dumber.”

“Why do jerks succeed? Sure, some of it’s duplicity and evil, but there’s something we can learn from them in good conscience: they’re assertive about what they want, and they’re not afraid to let others know about what they’ve achieved.”

“For an extra boost, try writing your story down. Research shows it can make you 11 percent happier with your life.”

“Spencer explained the downside of grit: “I know plenty of people for whom grit is a liability because it allows them to stick with something that makes them or others miserable and towards no long-term good aim. The alternative of which is the thing that you would most like to do that would bring you the most joy and might bring other people the most joy or be the most productive.”

About the Author 

Eric Barker runs the blog “Barking up the Wrong Tree.” It has over 325,000 subscribers. Time magazine and other media firms have syndicated this blog. 


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