Pig Wrestling: The Brilliantly Simple Way to Solve Any Problem… and Create the Change You Need.

The TAR Notes

Find the book here.


Knowledge: 8/10

Have you ever had a problem that was so bad you said to yourself – “I am stuck, I’ve tried everything!” Maybe you have one right now! This is where Pig Wrestling picks up the story. This is a book written by two psychologist who coach elite athletes up to top CEO’s on how to solve problems. I won’t cover the literal story because it is a fictional “fable” the authors use to help you understand the problem solving mindset. The story is of a young manager who is totally stuck with his company and is ready to throw in the towel, until he meets a sage barista at his collaborative work space. The Barista introduces him to a system of thinking that he and the rest of the people in the space have co-opted, and then sends him to each of the people to teach him a lesson. This is where the story is a little goofy and tries a little too hard for millennial appeal, however the knowledge behind the goofy story is incredibly valuable. Some books seem to have those lessons that touch all areas of your life and this is one of them. Here are some of highlights below, there will be a natural lack of context, feel free to purchase the book here.

If you find yourself wrestling a pig, you have the wrong problem

Once you are in the im-stuck-I’ve-tried-everything-mindset you are wrestling a muddy pig. At that point you want to step out of the pig pen and do the foot on the fence check 

  • Do I know this is a problem for me to solve
  • Is this a problem that HAS to be solved right now
  • Can I see the whites of the Pigs eyes? Do you have first hand information about said problem? Never rely on second hand info, go to the source and make sure you know the absolute truth.

Language and Framing

In the story they imagine a pig with a picture frame around its neck. This call us to examine how we are framing said problem.

  • The language used to describe problems or people often fuel the problem and hold it in place.
  • Humans make faulty assumptions about people and processes based on one occurrence, for example a guy leaves his coffee cup in the sink once and he is for ever a slob who is lazy at work. 
  • The language holds one frame over the problem, locking us into one point of view.
  • We are viewing a situation as a people problem when it could be a scheduling issue, a technology issue. We think some one is complete a process wrong when the tool to complete the process wasn’t set up correctly.
  • Example- In a European country’s airport the male restrooms were being treated horribly by the people who used the facilities. The first campaign the airport ran they put up posters telling people to take pride in their country and take care of the restroom out of respect for others. No change at all despite many campaigns. What was the solution? Getting little images of flies painted in the dead center of the urinals, turns out it wasn’t a respect and decency problem, it was a literal aiming problem.

Feeding Trough and Crystal Ball

  • Feeding Trough w/Hanoi printed on it- The trough reminds us to question what we have been feeding our problems. 
  • Example- In Hanoi Vietnam long ago the city was infested with Rats. The government couldn’t hire enough rat catchers, so they opened it to the public. They would pay any citizen for each rat they killed. Next thing they know the rat population has exploded in the city, worse than before. The problem- enterprising people started breeding rats for cash. 
  • ***Major Key- The themes that connect your failures, highlight the assumptions you are making.
  • Look back at the consistent themes in your failures, more than likely you never actually changed strategies you kept trying iterations of the same thing. Where did the problem occur, who was there, whats the situation?
  • Crystal Ball – If you could look into a crystal ball and see that a miracle happened your problem was gone, how would you know that your problem was solved? How will you know it has been fixed? Always ask yourself this question, how will I know I’ve fixed this, and work your way backwards from there. 

Golden Nuggets and Spot the Difference

  • Now that you have analyzed your failures and moments when a problem occurred we look for gold nuggets
    • When was a time when the problem did not occur and everything ran smoothly?
  • While sometimes we feel like a problem never goes away, there is some moment or occurrence when the problem hasn’t occurred.
  • Find these golden nuggets and study the patterns, who what when where.
  • Spot the Difference- Now that you know the patterns of failures and the patterns of success, spot the difference between the two
  • Sometimes it is the literal environment- “we always clash in front of the whole company while defending our team, yet in private while collaborating we can see eye to eye.”
  • Major Key – Nice-to-haves vs Need-to-haves: now that you know the difference, separate your nice to haves from need to haves. Yes it would be nice for everyone to share your enthusiasm and show up to work an hour early, but  you don’t truly need them to do that. You need people to do what they are responsible for, oftentimes we are holding people to standards that are not mandatory. Use the crystal ball and ask what do I literally need to make this happen. More than likely it isn’t for someone to change their whole personality.

You are the problem and The Pig Warning Sign

  • After all those tips the moral of the story is, you are the problem. All of these tips are about examining your own mindset and assumptions so that you can get out of your own way and out of your team’s way. 
  • Never take pigs home – Don’t let a Pig turn into a 24 hour hobby you mull over and carry around your life. Some people like drama and like having a pig to carry around, it is some sort of negative entertainment. 

Hijacking of American Entreprenuership

There are many entry points to this story, the chronological one being in the 1850’s onward. If we harken back to the early days of America we would find a country of self-employed farmers. In our current age of worshiping the likes of Elon Musk, we completely gloss over some incredible facts in that one sentence. We don’t even register that the majority of the people in the country were self-employed, entrepreneurs. How many people do you even know that work for themselves today? Then a massive shift in the late 1800’s, the country was becoming industrialized, and people had a boss for the first time!

For the first time people had to think about working conditions. How bad can an employer treat an employee? Prior to the factory, questions like this never crossed the American mind. They had never been at the whims of a small group, this was a country of completely self dependent people who rebelled against authority constantly. They were accustomed to deeply rewarding work that put food on their table, and gave them standing in a community. 

Perhaps this was the beginning of the end of small town America. The local bread maker is now the 100th guy on the breadline in a factory. There are no longer small local economies, today we see Walmart instead of small business. Picture a small rural town pre-Walmart, they have a butcher,  bakery, local grocery store, pharmacy,  bike shop, and mechanic. When the butcher buys bread from the local baker, the profit(everything after his cost of business) goes to the baker. That Friday he buys meat from the butcher, and gets his son’s bike fixed at the local store. Picture that profit on each transaction. Now eliminate all of those businesses and picture Walmart. The baker and butcher went from business owner to making starvation wages. Any profit made in the small community is transported out of that town and into the Walmart bank account. Now play this scenario out all over the country with all the other massive chains. This is literally redistribution in reverse. 

Fast-Forward to a different scene- American colleges present day. In any given business class students are looking as case studies of Nike, Coca Cola, Apple, etc. They are told stories about Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, people who bet their whole life on massive all consuming ideas. They are the poster children of entrepreneurship and more importantly- of The American Dream itself. The idea of grandeur has absorbed americans entrepreneurial ambitions. We see the local, service business workers portrayed as morons, uncouth people who just can’t think big enough. The view is great from the college high horse while on campus.

However the fall is painful. Your robotic analyses of an underserved market that you could write a business plan for would cost millions. You don’t have it, you have no credit, loads of debt,  and no experience so no one would invest. Next thing you know, you’re back in your hometown being forced to apply for jobs in some city. 

This is where an interesting breakdown in supply and demand happens. Academic elitist culture has portrayed anyone in a small town, and especially the trade worker as the enemy. These are the “idiots ruining the country”, the scary backwoods characters in movies that say offensive things and harass women. This creates a blind spot for college students with business knowledge and no employment. We don’t even consider a local service business entrepreneurship, it just isn’t flashy enough. The result is all these low-middle class kids who go to college only to find they can’t find “marketing” jobs in their hometown and they are massively in debt. Yet there is a massive lack of people looking to learn skills like plumbing, hvac, roofing, etc. What is causing this mass of educated people to overlook extremely profitable work, with a rewarding self-employed freedom? Who knows, but this idea from Lacan feels like a start.

Our desire is not something innate inside us. Indeed, for Lacan our desires are not even our own – we always have to desire in the second degree, finding a path to our own desire and our own recognition by asking the question of what the Other desires.