How to Win Friends & Influence People was recommended to me by a well-intentioned sycophant. At least, I want to assume they were well-intentioned. At the time I found that person to be an enormous brown noser, but an effective, enormous brown-noser.
I didn’t like this person and I am pretty sure this person didn’t like me. And yet the book’s kind of famous. According to Wikipedia:
How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie (1888–1955) and first published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies world-wide, and went on to be named #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books in 2011
It was, I figured, worth a shot so I picked it up.
I found it had a lot of “old-timery” advice in it, that doesn’t sit will with me initially. For example, Carnegie kicks it off asking the reader to acknowledge.
“My popularity, my happiness and sense of self-worth depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.” ~ HtWF&IP p.xxi
Dude, what the fuck.
Creatives have to learn to ignore external validation. My sense of self-worth depends on my ability to show up as my authentic self, live by my values, and make cool stuff. Screw other people, um except you, of course, dear reader.
Seriously though, it was a not a good beginning. In fact, I almost threw the book away after reading the first chapter’s principle.
“Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain.”
Mother—, was this why that brown-noser recommended the book in the first place? Was that passive aggressive shit trying to shut me up?
WHAT ABOUT WHEN PEOPLE ARE WRONG?! I wanted to shout.
Ok so a bit more context, my job had shifted to a process improvement role. Which meant in an already matrixed organization, I had even less direct authority. I had also recently been given feedback along the lines of, “Yeah you are right, but Person X, was butt hurt, and now certain people think you are difficult.”
Sidenote: To save you from googling me, this is where I point out that I am female, and there was some gender bias bullshit happening, but that’s not the point. The point, which Carnegie was trying to tell me, most people suck at realizing much less admitting when they’re wrong.
As much as I hate to admit, he had a point. (Ha see what I did there). However, I wasn’t totally wrong either and in fact 200 pages later Carnegie gives tips for “criticizing when you must”, in part four “be a leader”. It was both a relief and frustrating getting to that part, and demonstrates why HtWF&IP needs to updated.
Real collaborators are both leaders and followers.
Carnegie doesn’t seem to think of everyone as a leader. Respectfully I disagree, everyone can and should be a leader. Carnegie is writing from a time when business models were constrained by limits, what others have referred to as “scarcity” or a “factory” mind set. Some of what he says is still very relevant and useful, but as we move to digital economies, successful companies need to change. The model needs to shift from focussing on competition to co-opetition and collaboration.
If I asked Carnegie, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be liked?” I’m betting he would say it’s more important to be liked. He’d likely turn it around on me and ask, “Do want to be right or do you want to be effective?” My answer in an enthusiastic, both.