It’s happened several times in the last few months — young leaders I’ve encountered calling out Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as inspiring, guiding, and causing them to change how they are navigating the world. The book even served as the basis for one company’s core values. Of course I’d known about it for decades, though I’d not read it — it seemed dated and sales-y — a sort of “to seem rather than to be” thing.
Curious, I parted with an Audible credit and gave it a listen one weekend while I was (yet again) cleaning out my closets. The audible version comes with a narration the likes of which you would’ve heard in newsreels played at movie theaters in the 30s and 40s. A completely preserved time travel experience back to the post-Depression era, stereotypes and all.
Originally published in 1937, the work was an “overnight sensation” sending the publisher, Simon and Schuster, scrambling to print edition after edition. “It took its place in publishing history as one of the all time best-sellers. It touched a nerve and filled a human need that was more than a faddish phenomenon of post-Depression days . . . Each generation has discovered it anew and has found it relevant,” Carnegie’s widow Dorothy wrote in the preface to the 1981 edition.
This week, it’s #9 on Amazon’s Charts, enjoying 118 weeks and 91 weeks respectively on the Top 20 Most Read and Most Sold.
And now I know why. My closet cleaning was seriously interrupted by my captivation with this book. I found myself thinking, do the Stephen Coveys of the world know that much of what they write in works such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had already been written by Carnegie? And his book is shorter, packed with engaging anecdotes, plain-speaking, direct and actionable: Be a good listener. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. Be genuinely interested in people. Remember their names. Smile. Make others feel important and do it sincerely. Try honestly to see the other’s point of view. If you’re wrong, admit it. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders — what Carnegie calls “rules” for us to get along better together.
Where’d this come from?
Dale Carnegie grew up a poor farm boy from Missouri. After some twists and turns in his early adulthood, including an attempt at acting, his purpose found him: adult education.
In his introduction, “How this Book was Written — and Why,” Carnegie explains that he began conducting “educational courses for business and professional men and women focused on public speaking in New York in 1912.” He realized that “as sorely as these adults needed training in effective speaking, they needed still more training in the fine art of getting along with people in everyday business and social contacts. Investigations from the Carnegie Institute of Technology [no relation] revealed that even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering — to personality and the ability to lead people.”
According to Carnegie, “I had been searching for years to discover a practical, working handbook on human relations. Since no such book existed, I have tried to write one . . . and here it is. I hope you like it.”
He devoured “everything from newspaper columns, magazine articles, . . . the writings of the old philosophers and the new psychologists, . . . [searched] through countless biographies . . . and interviewed scores of successful people . . . trying to ascertain how the great leaders of all ages had dealt with people.” What emerged became a course that evolved in stages as he began bringing his studies bit by bit to his adult learners, and ultimately captured it all in this book. “The rules we have set down here are not mere theories or guesswork. They work like magic.”
Ageless and timeless
A 2011 update for the “digital age” didn’t sell — seems that the basic behaviors for winning friends and influencing people (whether talking, texting, emailing, tweeting, snapchatting, or sharing on Facebook or Instagram) are the same as they’ve always been.
And, given the book’s current popularity, our hunger for a more civilized, connected, kind, and joyful way of being together hasn’t changed either.
Sunday Morning Reflection
Give it a read or a listen. Or, just be sure to listen, smile more, and remember people’s names.
As Carnegie says, “they work like magic.”
Sunday Morning: 121