Why the Donald Trump Victory Was Totally Expected, and No One Saw It Coming

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As the reality of a Donald Trump presidency starts to sink in, most of us are still in disbelief. What do we say to our kids about a Donald Trump presidency? What does this mean for minorities in America? What does this mean for the supreme court…




and it goes on and on. It’s easy to fall into the depths of worry and stress. But that’s not what this article is about. It’s not about reframing a very tough situation. Or about minimizing the multiple negative aspects of his campaign. This is not about what Hillary and Democrats could have done differently.

Plenty of political commentators will talk about the implications of a Donald Trump presidency. This article is about why it happened and was expected, what we missed, and what we can learn for our businesses.

Why Donald Trump Won

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants he discusses a number of ways that underdogs and misfits end up winning wars, political fights, and wars. Once we understand what history, research, and thought leaders teach us, we can see why a Donald Trump presidency was likely, and no one saw it coming. Here are guiding principles that Gladwell found in his research

  • p. 25 “…the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.” Gladwell found that when we evaluate wars between small countries and large and established ones that there were some interesting facts. We’d expect that huge establishments would win wars close to 100% of the time. But he actually found that they only win 71.5%, that menas that 1/3 of the time, the underdog wins!
  • p. 35 “Effort can trump ability.” Gladwell found that established entities will be wrapped up in considerations, policy, and processes that slow down movement. As a result, smaller and more agile entities such as guerrilla warriors, small companies, and outsider politicians can respond quicker to public opinion.
  • p. 106-107 “An extraordinary high number of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic…they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder-that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage [emphasis Gladwell’s].” What Gladwell found was that successful entrepreneurs and business people, found ways to emphasize their differences and use them as strengths. Over and over, establishment businesses and politicians sought to continue business as usual and underdogs went in the opposite direction.

But, there are more factors that we could have seen, but didn’t.

Statistics we Should Have Noticed

In the book Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking by Shane Snow, he discusses presidential elections. He talks about how the traditional “climbing the ladder” advice doesn’t work with becoming president. We think of someone becoming a Senator or Govenor, then eventually reaching he White House. However he found that:

There’s something wrong with the great American ladder-climbing advice: presidents of the United States…don’t follow it.”

Snow actually found that:

  • Presidents are less likely to have served in office.
  • Often presidents “switch ladders” to move quicker.
  • Rarely does a president “parlay up a linear path.” Instead he found that they climbed a variety of ladders and switched later to the “presidential ladder.”
  • Of CNN’s top ten presidents only one of them (JFK) followed the traditional path.

Snow says, “Hacking the ladder is the mind-set they use to get places.”

Most people thought that this wouldn’t be the election we saw this proven.

What was the Tipping Point for Trump?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In his book, Gladwell discusses what builds trust on a subconscious level, how do people remember complex messages, and how the simplest messages usually win.  For example, he reported: 

  1. Head movement matters: Gladwell reported (p. 77-78) that a marketing research company found that when people mirrored gestures, they actually felt differently. For example, a group of college students were more likely to agree with higher tuition if they were told to nod their heads at times, even when they were not talkign about tuition. Gestures of positivity or negativity can be enhanced when a speaker mirrors a person’s feelings.
  2.  Up and Down Gestures: If you watch Dona;d Trump’s hand movements, they are often up and down. This repetitive motion actually was found to enhance people’s trust of products. Gladwell reported that University of Missouri researcher Richard Petty found that commercials with movements up and down did better because it often caused the person to mirror saying “yes.”
  3. Say it six times: In marketing you often hear that people have to hear things six times for it to stick. As well, Gladwell reports that the more we hear incorrect information, the more likely we are to believe it. Often times, Donald Trump said the same sentence in multiple ways several times. He also used phrases to quickly say what he meant. Instead of saying, “Here are all the reasons that I think Hillary is bad:…” He would say “Crooked Hillary.” This allowed the audience to use less calories, subconsciously thinking that Trump had their evolutionary best interest in mind. This doesn’t even take into account the whole “alpha male” gestures, which could be it’s own blog post.

Next we need to looking into Trump’s speaking techniques and what we can see he did that mirrors the top TED Talks.

Talk Like TED and Trump

In his book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, Carmine Gallo evaluates the top 200 TED Talks and discovers nine public speaking secrets. Yet, Trump did most of these at most events, but the most poignant ones were: 

Teach me something new aka be novel 

Trump routinely used sources (true or fabricated) that the average voted had not heard. These were stories, conspiracies, and daily musings that were new information to the average listener. In Gallo’s book he discusses how Martha Burns from Northwestern discusses how novelty is addictive. She said, “Increase novelty in a classroom and you increase dopamine levels…dopamine can be addictive.” Further Gallo states, “If you can’t explain your big idea in 140 characters or less, keep working on your message.”

Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments 

In TED Talks this can be when Bill Gates was talking about malaria and let mosquitos out into the room. According to Gallo, “Jaw-dropping moments create what neuroscientists call an emotionally charged event, a heightened state of emotion that makes it more likely your audience will remember your message and act on it.”

Use Gestures 

The top TED speakers used gestures within the area between the bellybutton and shoulders. Gallo reported, ” Studies have shown that complex thinkers use complex gestures and that gestures actually give the audience confidence in the speaker.”

Lastly, this was all sketched out in his book, but no one expected it would work.

The Art of the Deal

In Donald Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, he outlined several tactics that should be noted:

Here’s what he said about how we gets things to go his way:

I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

He discussed how to get media attention:

One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.

Or here’s what he said about getting free advertising:

If I take a full-page ad in the New York Times to publicize a project, it might cost $40,000, and in any case, people tend to be skeptical about advertising. But if the New York Times writes even a moderately positive one-column story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me anything, and it’s worth a lot more than $40,000.

What we Can Learn from a Trump Win

So here we are, President-Elect Donald Trump. I’m not going to get into what we can do politically. Instead, is there anything we can glean to apply to our private practices? Here’s a list of things I’ve discovered through writing this article:

  1. The underdog often has a better chance at winning. When you feel like you’re defeated, your practice can’t make it, or you need to adjust, remember that you have agility the average business does not have.
  2. You challenges set you apart from your competitors. Use them to stand out or think differently then they think.
  3. Jump some ladders. Just because you are in the lane of counseling does not mean you can’t become a consultant, do other interesting work, or level up in other ways.
  4. Use non-verbals to build rapport with clients. Psychological tactics don’t just work for politicians, they work with all humans. If you do it ethically and to actually help people, that’s wonderful!

Meet Joe Sanok

joe-sanok-private-practice-consultant-headshot-smaller-versionJoe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is one of the world’s leading private practice consultants. He is the owner of the Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling. Joe helps counselors to start private practices and grow them.