UK: Management Classics - The popular choice.

UK: Management Classics - The popular choice. - 'The original self-improvement book', this engaging guide to personal relations in business is inspirational rather than intellectual.

by Trevor Merriden.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

'The original self-improvement book', this engaging guide to personal relations in business is inspirational rather than intellectual.

It's very easy to be dismissive of a book called How To Win Friends and Influence People. The cover line has the feel of yet another 'get rich quick' guide, in a world already over-burdened with instant solutions.

Move beyond the initial prejudice, however, and it soon becomes clear why the title is still used in everyday conversation.

Dale Carnegie's famous book, written over 60 years ago, provides a thorough and engaging guide to the importance of personal relations in business.

Only a small part of success is due to an individual's own knowledge, he claims. Most is due to 'skill in human engineering - to personality and the ability to lead people'.

Carnegie draws on a wealth of colourful experiences to drive his point home. His own working life features repeatedly. A stint as regional salesman of bacon, soap and lard in Omaha was followed by training to be an actor at the New York American Academy of Dramatic Arts, giving popular courses on public speaking, and finally the publication of several successful books on public presentation and personal confidence.

The management writer Stuart Crainer describes How To Win Friends and Influence People as 'the original self-improvement book'. It was unique for its time, written some 30 years before the market in business and management literature started to take off. Published in 1937, Carnegie's analysis struck a chord with the new breed of ambitious business professionals shaping post-depression America. Its appeal lay in its ability to give them the confidence to clamber up the greasy pole to corporate stardom.

How to Win Friends has been much criticised for a lack of rigour, but Carnegie did plenty of research. He spent 18 months reading everything he could about successful people (including over 100 biographies of President Franklin D Roosevelt) and hired a researcher to read books that he didn't have time to look at.

He also interviewed many of the great and good from all walks of life (including Roosevelt himself, Guglielmo Marconi and Clark Gable) to catch any practical tips that he might have missed.

The result is a guide divided into four sections: 'Fundamental techniques in handling people'; 'Six ways to make people like you'; 'How to win people to your way of thinking'; and 'How to change people without giving offence or arousing resentment', each one packed is with anecdotes. The strength of the anecdotal approach is that it produces an entertaining and readable book, with clear examples reinforcing every message.

From today's pespective the messages themselves are hardly ground-breaking but back in the '30s, they represented fresh analysis in a world where bosses were bosses and workers knew their place. 'Don't criticise, condemn or complain, it only makes people defensive'; 'Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language'; or 'Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves'.

The book has obvious faults. It can be gushingly sentimental, trite and unpleasant. This is captured in one heading, 'Six ways to make people like you', which implies a cynical manipulation of people's feelings in the pursuit of one's own ends.

The value of this book is inspirational rather than intellectual and it still sells well. The first edition had a print run of only 5,000 copies.

Some 16 million copies later, the 'original self-improvement book' remains perhaps the most popular one, if not the most useful, ever published.

MANAGEMENT LESSONS FROM HOLLYWOOD

NOEL COWARD'S VIRTUAL CORPORATION

The Italian Job was ahead of its time in more ways than one. But what impresses Rhymer Rigby most is the prescience of Charlie's vision as he oversees a pan-European logistical coup

Advanced logistics, diversity and the virtual corporation - these are all concepts owned by the consultants of the '90s, right? Hardly. Nearly 30 years ago, in The Italian Job, Michael Caine said it all and said it simply. Caine plays Charlie, an ambitious young project manager, who oversees a stunning pan-European logistical coup. Behind the scenes, his chairman, Mr Bridger (played by Noel Coward) is running what we might refer to as a 'virtual corporation'. What impresses most, though, is the clarity, breadth and, above all, the prescience of Caine's vision - even his blind spots are illuminating. It is high time that the McKinseys and Andersens of this world acknowledged their debt to Charlie & co.

THE VIRTUAL CORPORATION

Although operating nearly 30 years before the internet and video conferencing, Bridger runs a slick 'virtual corporation' from his Wormwood Scrubs base. When corporeal board meetings are necessary, he gets around his 'situation' by arranging day release for the funeral of a 'close relative'. Here Bridger maintains appropriate dignity and propriety by weaving his chairman's statement into the eulogy.

DIVERSITY

Charlie normally draws his staff from a known pool of upwardly mobile criminals but this job requires advanced IT and driving skills.

So he turns to overlooked areas of 'the community'. He enrols an electronics professor with an obesity fetish, and a trio of toffish drivers. Encouragingly, Charlie is serious about diversity and warns his workforce that there will be no jokes about the drivers' accents or the prof's peccadilloes.

UNDERSTANDING LOCAL CULTURE

Many companies assume foreign countries are just like their own. This is insulting and liable to cause problems: As Disney found out when it launched in France. Charlie's research is rather more thorough. 'Remember,' he warns his drivers, 'in Italy, they drive on the wrong side of the road.' This shows consideration for his hosts and a realisation that basic differences can poleaxe an otherwise excellent scheme.

PRE-LAUNCH TRIALLING

Doubtless anticipating Mercedes' embarrassment when its A Class failed Sweden's Moose Test, Charlie is ruthless in trialling his equipment pre-launch. 'You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!' he chides as numerous vans explode and untold Minis hit brick walls.

Due diligence pays off and the problems his team encounters on the day are down to human, not mechanical, failure.

LOGISTICS

The Italian Job is a triumph of the oft-derided logistician's art. Charlie paralyses Turin by knocking out its traffic lights and then uses upgraded Minis to negotiate its narrow precincts. Out of town, where roads are wider, he has a more robust coach waiting. That this ends up hanging off a cliff is, one suspects, down to his employees' premature celebrations. Few firms had alcohol guidelines in the '60s.

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