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Self-Help Messiah

Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America

by Steven Watts

Hardcover, 582 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $29.95 |


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Self-Help Messiah
Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America
Steven Watts

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Book Summary

Steven Watts traces the Dale Carnegie's personal journey and the early failures that inspired his career, describing how he transformed his experiences into a best-selling book that promoted interpersonal relations and effective communication skills.

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Excerpt: Self-Help Messiah


Selling Products, Selling Yourself

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie often delved into the world of sales. "Thousands of salesmen are pounding the pavements today, tired, discouraged, and under­paid," he claimed. "Why? Because they are always thinking only of what they want" and don't understand the people to whom they are trying to sell. But the guidelines in his book could remedy this situation. "Countless numbers of salesmen have sharply increased their sales by the use of these principles. Many have opened up new accounts — accounts they had formerly solicited in vain," he exclaimed. "Men are frequently astonished at the new results they achieve. It all seems like magic."The first step was to understand that in modern America, discovering people's desires was crucial. Every­one had their own problems and "if a salesman can show us how his services or his merchandise will help us solve our problems, he won't need to sell us. We'll buy." But the skilled salesman also knew that people's desires could be encouraged and inflated. As Carnegie pro­claimed, in one of his favorite maxims, "arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him."

The second step was equally important. Successful salesmen needed to sell themselves as well as their products, Carnegie shrewdly observed. A major section of How to Win Friends was devoted to "Six Ways to Make People Like You," and it included advice on "how to make people like you instantly." The author of­fered tips for advancing in the sales game, such as soliciting a "yes response" immediately from a potential buyer because this would "set the psychological processes . . . moving in the affirmative di­rection" and make it more likely that he would buy your product. Carnegie even included a surefire letter for use in sales promotions. It began, "I wonder if you would mind helping me out of a little difficulty?" It went on to ask clients how successful the product had been and if there were additional services that could be sup­plied, and then closed with: "If you'll do this, I'll surely appreciate it and thank you for your kindness in giving me this information." Carnegie added, in parentheses, "Note how, in the last paragraph, [the letter] whispers 'I' and shouts 'you.'" These techniques aimed to make the other person feel important but also set the salesman to conveying a positive, compelling image of himself to a client.

In a broad sense, Carnegie, with his usual acumen, had grasped a crucial historical truth: Early twentieth-century America was em­bracing a new kind of economy where consumer abundance was the order of the day and salesmen played a key role in lubricating the flow of goods. But he also understood that selling consumer goods had become linked to emotional self-fulfillment and the ideal of a compelling personality. As with many other themes in his fa­mous book, Carnegie's formulation was less the result of a sys­tematic analysis of modern life and more a result of his own past experience. As his college career came to a close, the young man, weary of poverty and eager to partake of the prosperity beckoning all around, took the plunge into the world of salesmanship. This endeavor proved frustrating, but it provided ideas and techniques that became an integral part of his famous success message. As he would make clear in later years, selling yourself in a modern America of abundance held the key to achievement and advancement.

In the spring of 1908, Dale Carnagey was ready for a change. Having confronted an acute crisis of confidence in college over his religious background and feelings of social inferiority, he had embraced public speaking as a means to distinction and molded himself into a champion debater and orator. He expected to fin­ish his course work, graduate, and become a schoolteacher with a long-term goal — set sometime in the hazy future — of becoming a Chautauqua speaker. But Carnagey still was haunted by the specter of poverty that had hung over his family since his boyhood. He had no money, few possessions, and his parents were struggling to hold on to their farm.

Thus when a classmate, in casual conversation, mentioned an opportunity for moneymaking, Carnagey was receptive. Frank Sells, a fellow member of the Irving Literary Society, related that he had spent part of the previous year selling courses for the Interna­tional Correspondence School in Denver, Colorado. The company paid the princely sum of $2.00 a day for room and board, while the salesman pocketed the commissions from any sales he made. After noting that a beginning schoolteacher made only $60.00 a month, an amount matched by the Correspondence School's ex­pense account alone, Carnagey quickly calculated the advantage and moved decisively.

Full of enthusiasm but naïve, he applied for the job in a rather unorthodox fashion. Not realizing that it was bad form to seek a position by mail, he dashed off a letter — along with a crude ré­sumé — to the International Correspondence School in Denver and asked for a sales position. The company decided to hire this neo­phyte sight unseen. Only later did Carnagey learn that its manag­ers had ignored his effrontery because they felt that someone who had won several public-speaking awards had the stuff to be a good salesman. Elated, he finished his spring semester courses, received his Regents Certificate, which made him a graduate of the "elemen­tary course" and entitled him to teach, and prepared to leave home for the first time at age nineteen. On May 23, 1908, his family ac­companied him to the Warrensburg depot, and as he boarded the train, his mother wept to see her youngest child depart on this new adventure. She seems to have sensed the finality of what her son later described as "leaving the family nest forever, to try out my wings in the world."

Excerpted from Self-Help Messiah by Steven Watts. Copyright 2013 by Steven Watts. Excerpted by permission of Other Press.