Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Printable: Download this summary to read offline.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

After years of publishing on his now-popular blog, Eric Barker decided to package it all together in a signature book that’s called no other than Barking Up the Wrong Tree. In this masterpiece, instead of telling us all, again, like all the others, that hard works is what it takes to be successful, he takes a different approach. Eric analyzes the other side of the popular advice thrown around the self-help hemisphere, extracts interesting facts that are rarely mentioned but can play a huge role in you becoming successful, and presents them in a funny, yet thought-provoking way.

The Core Idea:

Often what we’re told about becoming worldly popular and achieving our dreams doesn’t work. So instead of harassing us all to go network, to play by the rules, and to believe in ourselves, Eric Baker urges us to do the exact opposite: don’t play by the rules, be a friendly person, and sometimes believe in yourself.


  • Forming a pirate-like company and pursuing a hidden treasure can serve you better.
  • Often being a jerk can be helpful. But you can talk about your work and share your progress without sounding like one.
  • While being Batman sounds uberly cool, you shouldn’t try to be a masked vigilante. You should accept your humanity.

5 Key Lessons from Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

Lesson #1: Dare To Be Eccentric

The same traits that make people a nightmare to deal with can also make them the people who change the world.” Eric Barker

You probably attended school. Most of us did. And do you remember what you were told there daily? Be nice. Raise your hand. Don’t speak unless you raise your hand. Once you speak, say something smart.

Or in other words, from a very early age, society had a plan for us: to turn us into obedient little slaves that will one day grow up to become mature and motivated slaves that fuel the engine of an organization that is careless of our real needs and desires.

And do you know what? This plan worked. Thanks to this insidious plot, we’re now somewhere we loathe being.

It turns out that if you want to truly make it – like be a famous movie start and give autographs and stuff – you need to do the exact opposite of what you were told all these years.

That is why you should give your inner unfiltered artist a chance. Do the opposite of what you were told all these years. Or as the author writes in the book, “Reaching the heights of success requires a dip into qualities that are otherwise problematic.”

Lesson #2: Create a Pirate-Like Environment

Except for Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp, we consider pirates as these filthy, eye-patched, dishonest men who rob innocent people and slaughter each other when they see a beautiful mademoiselle.

As it turns out from the investigation done by the author, these sea rebels were far from bloodthirsty savages. Their bad rep and thuggish appearance was all a marketing strategy. Why? Because it was way easier to make people deliberately surrender when they see the skull flag.

And how this pirate thing all started?

It was “a response to evil.” The present then landlords were abusive with the crew members of the ships. The salary was extremely low. The conditions were poor and everyone had to obey the “management,” or else… prison or sharks.

Being part of a pirate crew was the exact opposite of the lifestyle on imperial ships. All members got a chance to vote. Diversity was a must. And the captain was constantly trying to please the members since he couldn’t afford to lose staff and his title was nowhere near secure – after all, the cap could be fired at any given moment.

The atmosphere in these ships can be compared to the current startups we see emerging daily – friendly, motivated, rebellious.

So, what’s the idea here?

Take good care of your folks. Form a union based on loyalty and trust. Give people a fair share of the loot and show them how your company, organization, group is different from what’s out there.

Most people are sick of the despotic industrialist who inherited wealth and want more only for themselves. They want to see more pirate-like companies that are not afraid of pursuing a crazy idea or searching for a hidden treasure.

Pirates Inc. even had a diversity program hundreds of years before it was popular or mandated by law. Why? They weren’t morally enlightened; racism simply wasn’t good business whereas treating people right was.” Eric Barker

Lesson #3: Learn From Jerks But Don’t Be One

Surely you know a jerk or two. They’re loud, narcissistic, and often get credits for work they have hardly contributed to. A lot of them are actually quite successful. We see them all the time, boasting about their income and sharing pictures of their house full of fancy gizmos.

This might get you thinking, “Should I switch careers and become a jerk myself?”

Not really.

Most people can’t stand these mean, self-centered bastards who promote themselves all the time. Yet, these folks do some things quite well.

Yes, I was surprised myself. But loud big-headed people do a lot of stuff really good.

Let’s see some of their tactics and how we can use them in our favor:

  1. Pick the right pond: To shine, you need to place yourself inside the right environment. If the surrounding people are not helping you advance, you need to find a better place. You’re not going to change other people but they will surely change you. Jerks pick industries where their natural abilities are welcomed.
  2. Cooperate first: Even jerks cooperate. They know the strongest side of the people around them and use their charm to make them do stuff for them. But you can do better. Simply show the other person that you need help and don’t be a backstabber.
  3. Being selfless isn’t saintly, it’s silly: Jerks are surely not saints. But you don’t have to be one yourself. At least not all the time. Ask for favors. Don’t say yes to everything and don’t feel guilty when you can’t help someone.
  4. Work hard – but make sure it gets noticed: The signature quality of the average jerk is sharing how awesome he is. Copy that behavior. Share with others your milestones. You need to make your work visible. How else would you be noticed?

Now you’re ready. You can storm the office and play the jerk game without being one yourself.

Lesson #4: Don’t Try To Be Batman

Becoming Batman is cool. I mean, I always wanted to become black-mask-wearing, knives-throwing, caped crusader myself. To be spoiled by Alfred millionaire, have a cave full of cool gadgets, the ability to save innocent lives, and skilled in diverse martial arts.

But as the author puts it, becoming Batman is easy, staying Batman – not so much.

For the average boxer, losing one fight out of 30 is nothing – it’s statistics. And it’s still a good track record. But not if you want to be Batman.

Lossing while fighting villains who are trying to destroy your beautiful city and bring misery to the world means inevitable death. Therefore, to be Batman, you must never lose. Like, ever.

Obviously, this is unrealistic. Strangely, we all act as we’re masked vigilantly who are immune to death. We strive to be perfect, and when we’re not, we quit.

It kind of looks like this: We do one thing, it doesn’t turn out to be perfect, we quit and we never try something new. We say to ourselves, “Well, I tried but it seems that I wasn’t born to be Batman.”

That’s a wrong approach. You’re simply afraid of failure and from trying stuff. Even Batman failed. In all of the movies. He didn’t save all of the folks. Some people died. But did he quit? Nope. He continued to push himself even when things weren’t actually working out.

You also want to accept your humanity. You are fallible. You don’t have to be perfect all the time like Batman. You can’t be. Nobody can. Trying to be is irrational, and that’s what leads to all the frustrating emotions.” Eric Barker

Lesson #5: Don’t Network, Be a Friend

To reach the podium, to triumph, to convince other people that they should give a damn about your product or service, you need to network. That’s what all major gurus will tell you. “Grab that phone and make cold calls till your jaw aches! Interrupt others and talk about you. You. You. You.”

We see this happening everywhere. Open social media and you’ll see “me doing this and that” photos.

But while talking to famous dudes who did something worthwhile, Eric Barker noticed something different. Genuinely helpful people, givers as often mentioned in the book, don’t make their interactions with others transactional.

They seek to make friends. They are genuinely interested in the person standing in front of them and strive to make a personal relationship with the other party – not exhaust their wallet.

What if you’re not good at making friends?

Here’s the short version of the crash-course mentioned in the book:

  1. You like Iron Man? I like Iron Man too: You see someone reading your favorite book? Introduce yourself. Tell them how this book changed your life. It’s easier to make connections with others when we like similar stuff.
  2. Listen and encourage other toddlers: You probably already heard that but listening is vital. While the other person speaks, he reveals himself. He exposes personal information which you can use to relate to.
  3. Be a giver: Share your twinkies: Someone is having trouble with something outside of your scope of expertise? Search for a solution. Even if it’s not related to your business. Even if this person is not in your target audience. Try to help as much as you can.
  4. Start with the friends you already have: Often we’re so obsessed with making new connections that we forget about the connections we already have. Reconnect with old friends.
  5. Find your “superconnectors”: You surely have extrovert friends. People with numerous connections who love to talk and make even more connections. Ask them for help.
  6. Make the time – and the budget: You won’t magically grow your network if you sit at home wearing pajamas. You need to do some work. Schedule time to go out with others every week no matter how busy your schedule is.
  7. Join groups: Preferably, offline groups. But choose them wisely. Find communities that will help you become a better person. For example, if you want to lose weight, join a group that’s obsessed with exercising and eating healthy.
  8. Always follow up: We meet people but we rarely take the time to catch up with them. After a while, it’s like we never met. Change than. Even a simple email can do the work.

Maintaining good relationships with other people matters. And if you want to make it, you need to play this game. You can’t skip it step.

You can’t not play politics; you can only play them badly . . . the only place where relationships don’t matter is on a desert island far away from the rest of the world.” Al Bernstein

Actionable Notes:

  • Be eccentric: Being average in today’s world is dangerous. You need to be either good or bad, and if you’re going to be bad, you need to be bad in a good way. What does that mean? Don’t be a good accountant. Be an accountant with personality. Stand out. Be eccentric. And if you’re going to suck at something, at least make it with style. You know, like the people who show up on American Idol. The ones who can barely sing but at least make a show.
  • Figure out your signature strengths: The key to success is figuring out your top quality. The one that differentiates you from others. It’s hard, I know. But Eric shares the following question in the book that can help us find our signature strength more easily: “What are you good at that consistently produces desired results?” Observe the results of your projects and see what you do well and what you don’t. Then, double down on the positives.
  • Self-promote: That’s the best tactic you can take from jerks without being one. Tells others what you did, why you did it, and how this can help them. Do it not so much to indulge your own ego, do it in exchange for helping others.
  • Pick the right pond: Your surroundings are crucial for your future. “You’ve got to pick the environments that work for you,” shares the author in the book. Some people are barely making ends meet but once they found their place, they blossom. This means two things: 1) don’t stop searching till you find your place in the world, or 2) create, yourself, the right environment for success.
  • Respond to evil: Still not sure what to do with your life? Do what pirates and Batman have in common: respond to evil. Wrong things are happening all around us. People are getting abused and evil organizations are trying to manipulate the masses. Do something that will help people escape the modern treadmill and help them progress. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make things better?”

Commentary and My Personal Takeaway

In one form or another, we all crave success. That’s why we read books, buy courses, visit events and lectures. And, on top of everything, we do all kinds of nasty things behind our co-workers back.

Do we succeed? Most of us don’t.

We simply get too caught up in the practices mentioned by the gurus.

Fortunately for me and you, we have Barking Up the Wrong Tree with the extensively long subtitle: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker.

This book, is not your ordinary type of self-help book. It’s fun, readable, full of facts that are refined so even a 9-year-old can grasp them and above all, written in a human language.

So, if you’re still lost in this journey called life, grab a copy and pick a wrong tree to read it. I can assure you that it’s worth your time.

Key takeaway?

I don’t know. I found so many useful things inside that’s hard to hold to just one. But if I have to pick, I’ll most probably be this: pick a task that’s meaningful to you. It might not be grandiose as saving the world from hunger, but if it makes sense for you, it will be enough.

Notable Quotes:

Optimists lie to themselves. But if we all stop believing anything can change, nothing ever will. We need a bit of fantasy to keep us going.” Eric Barker

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.” Eric Barker

In your head, you say between three hundred and a thousand words every minute to yourself. Those words can be positive (I can do it) or negative (Oh god, I can’t take this anymore). It turns out that when these words are positive, they have a huge effect on your mental toughness, your ability to keep going.” Eric Barker

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