Life lessons from Dale Carnegie: 1) Criticism is futile

I’m currently re-reading Dale Carnegie‘s classic on human relations, How to Win Friends and Influence People. These lessons never get old.

Almost every great leader — whether in business, nonprofit, or government — knows about Carnegie and has mastered the skills he outlines. Warren Buffet said Dale Carnegie changed his life. Buffet doesn’t have his college diploma or his Master’s degree from Columbia University pinned up on his wall in his office. The diploma he has pinned up is the one he received when he graduated from Dale Carnegie’s training program.

The first principle is Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. Here’s a great piece that the book gives to drive this point home. The piece is called “Father Forgets” by W. Livingston Larned (this is the condensed version from Reader’s Digest).

Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.

There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive-and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.

You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding-this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy-a little boy!”

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

Carnegie sums up the moral of “Father Forgets”:

Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance, and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”

Great life lesson.

Seth Godin and Heath Brothers: Failure is a key ingredient to success

Seth Godin blog picture

I’ve been reading a lot of Seth Godin lately.  He’s a great source to read when taking any type of risk on any type of venture.  Here’s a short youtube video that succinctly sums up his philosophy.

Essentially, his recipe is:

Step 1)  Do it.
Step 2)  Fail.
Step 3)  Learn.
Step 4)  Make appropriate adjustments.
Step 5)  Try again.
Step 6)  Repeat Steps 1 through 5 until you…
Step 7)  Succeed.

Yes, this advice is simple and banal, and it makes the cynic in all of us cringe. “Surely it’s more complicated than this,” we tell ourselves, “I don’t want to put all of my time and hard work into a venture just to have it fail.  Let’s look into it more before we rashly jump in.”  Until, before you know it, you’re 75 and you haven’t ‘jumped into’ anything because you’ve always managed to talk yourself out of it.  Ah, yes, we’re all familiar with that most insidious of human tendencies: rationalization.

I think the main reason most people quit either before or after Step 1 is that, for some reason, we have this bizarre expectation that we need to go straight from Step 1 to Step 7, skipping all of the hardship and toil in between.  We think that enough background research and initial preparation will enable us to lay out a perfectly straight path to success before we even start.  But as Seth Godin points out:

I don’t think the right question is, “is the path perfect?”

It’s probably, “Is this somewhere I’d like to go?”

If you always ask yourself the former question before you start a new venture, launch day will never come because any worthwhile venture involves unknowns. A perfect path does not exist for any venture worth doing.

In contrast, the latter question leaves the possibility of failure — or at least imperfection — wide open.  In a similar vein, Dan and Chip Heath, in their awesome book Switch, write that in order to prevent us from quitting when we encounter failure, we need to create “the expectation of failure.”  That is, before the launch of any tough and risky project, we must disabuse ourselves of the foolish notion that Step 7 directly follows Step 1, and instead we must realize that,

“[w]e will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down — but throughout, we’ll get better, and we’ll succeed in the end. …[P]eople will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.”

To slightly alter a phrase from Switch: “success isn’t an event; it’s a process.”  Now get started.  And expect to fail.  You’ll be surprised to find that it’s actually kind of liberating.