Social Intelligence before Social Intelligence
The very title of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People is rife with absurdity. It is ridiculous to think a self “help” book would suggest gloating and learning about earning a “friend” just for personal “influence” and gain. For the enlightened reader, this image brings forth a brutal dog eat dog world, and as Butler-Bowdon.com puts it, “judging a book by its cover would seem a very reasonable thing to do.”
But maybe the cover is just a little bit deceptive.
As a child, I wasn’t the most normal kid. I read a lot of novels, had a less than supportive home life, and was too smart to get along with a lot of the kids in my classes. I got bored far too quickly, didn’t always fit in with the popular crowd, and didn’t appreciate the art of making friends. When I was around ten, my dad gave me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and frankly, I thought it was a joke. Just look at that title. How plainly insulting a gift to give to a child.
Fortuitously, at the beginning of high school I went ahead and read the damned book to see what the fuss was about, primarily because a teacher of mine highly recommended it to our English class. After reading the book, the texture of how I lived my life altered a little bit. The shift wasn’t immediate, but rather it took a while for the lessons to sink in. Confidence in public speaking became natural to me, as did making friends and simply approaching people. It became normal for me to simply introduce myself into another individual’s bubble that is their life, invading their sphere of influence and establishing a timeshare there. Simply existing in my own corner of the world was no longer an option; I had developed an insatiable need to connect to other people.
A brief history on Dale Carnegie-
The son of a poor farmer, Carnegie worked on his parents’ farm to put himself through the State Teacher College in Warrensburg, Missouri, and ended up working in sales after his graduation. After saving roughly 500$ (about $12700 in today’s value), Carnegie quit sales in 1911 to pursue his dream of being a lecturer. He ended up instructing a public speaking class at a YMCA, in return for 80% of the net proceeds. Eventually this enterprise evolved and expanded into the Dale Carnegie Course in Effective Speaking and Human Relations, ultimately culminating into a printed book- How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie passed away after living a full and exuberant life on November 1, 1955.
Carnegie was heavily influenced by John D. Rockefeller, keeping in mind Rockefeller’s statement that “the ability to handle people well was more valuable than all others put together.” After finding no publications about the subject, Carnegie and his researchers hungrily read everything they could find on human relations, including philosophy, classical texts, and the lives of those recognized for great leadership skills. After a basic set of ideas evolved from this research, Carnegie put the lessons to field on his course attendees, deducing what failed and adapting what worked. Fifteen years later, the “principles” in How to Win Friends and Influence People were written down and immortalized in pen marks and papyrus.
How to Win Friends is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. In it contains four fundamental sections – Techniques in Handling People, Six Ways to Make People Like You, Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking, and finally How to Change People Without Giving Offense. Each section contains several points extrapolated upon with anecdotal evidence from Carnegie’s courses and its completer’s life experiences and also theoretical ramblings from Carnegie himself.
It is important to keep in mind that Carnegie wrote his book in the America of the 1930s. The country was still reeling from the Great Depression, and chances to climb from the bottom, especially for people with limited education, were scarce. This book offered a way to escape, taking advantage of the one thing you could never default on – your personality. In today’s society, the claims made in How to Win Friends and Influence People do not seem so preposterous, as psychological ideas on the subject of motivation and success are well established. But in 1937! Many people must have looked at this information as if King Midas himself had grazed it.
The initial vision for the book was not for bestselling glory, but rather as a textbook for Carnegie’s courses in Effective Speaking and Human Relations. The initial print run of the book was only 5,000 copies. The true aim of the publication was to bring Carnegie’s message from the auditorium to a reading audience.
The book was effectively a dissertation and popularization of the idea of emotional intelligence before it was established in Academic psychology. Carnegie stressed the subtle skills of influence, revealing ideas and invoking enthusiasm by showing enthusiasm.
Even so, the book soon became one of the biggest selling books ever, and is still the biggest overall seller in the self-improvement field. How to Win Friends and Influence People is included in such compendiums as Most Significant Books of the 20th Century, and Crainer and Hamel’s Ultimate Business Library: 50 Books that Made Management.
The effect of the book on the country can be seen throughout popular culture. Warren Buffet, the investing tycoon and financial power house, took the Dale Carnegie course when he was 20 years old, and to this day has the diploma in his office. Charles Manson used what he learned from the course to convince his followers to commit heinous acts of murder on his behalf. And in the new animated T.V. series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there is an episode called “Making Friends and Influencing People”.
With over eight million graduates of his courses and over 30 million copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People sold, Dale Carnegie has irrevocably impacted the nation on a fundamental level, causing his readers and disciples to be more confident and more capable in their social interactions.
Ultimately, Carnegie has been immortalized in his place in American History by so radically increasing the value of person to person interactions all over the globe and across several decades.