Why the Best Read for Modern Entrepreneurs Is a Book From the 1930s

One of the best books I’ve read is a business book that isn’t explicitly about entrepreneurship. It’s Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” Most of the successful people I know personally — and even world-famous successful people such as Warren Buffett and Subway founder Fred DeLuca — have attributed much of their success to this book. I understand why.

The lessons in this book never get old, and it’s a very easy read. In fact, you can get through it in a few short bursts of reading after you get home from work each night. Every time I return to its pages, I’m slightly embarrassed. It covers the mistakes we make over and over. As individuals, we always move back to an “I” orientation, but this book encourages us to reorient ourselves to consider, “How can I serve you?”

Here’s a brief primer to a few of this classic’s principles — viewed through an entrepreneurial lens.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

We’ve been taught to practice empathy since grade school, but few of us put it to work in the everyday business world. It takes discipline to imagine ourselves as the other person in a situation and consider things from his or her perspective. This is a useful exercise whether we’re attempting to approach a problem from the customer’s point of view or an employee’s.

Don’t try to be right — or worse, attempt to make others wrong.

I’d never really thought about this point until I read Carnegie’s book. It’s been said a man convinced against his own will is of the same opinion still. There is no gain. In fact, we lose when our aim to prove the other person wrong.

Yet many people do just that. Let’s consider our own, average dealings with others. How often do we want to be right? Imagine a disagreement about how to improve a product. We have to ask ourselves, are we trying to make the product better or win the argument? We must be open to feedback.

Try to really like the people you work with.

People can sense if we genuinely like them. Who is the most popular character around? The family dog with the flapping tail, who smiles at everyone as they walk in the door. We should be like that dog — it won’t hurt us. Animals have much to teach us.

Avoid arguments in all cases.

Look for common ground — it is usually there. A side note, here: Even though points such as this one seem almost childlike, they still hold just as true today as they did when the book first was published in the 1930s. The real difference? Most successful people live this stuff.

Use people’s first names, and don’t forget them.

People love their names. This orientation to others comes up throughout the book, even in suggestions about how to write a letter by focusing on the other person. For example, instead of starting a letter with “We were thinking about a solution for you,” it’s better to focus on the other person: “You are going through a hard time.” This is a part of looking at everything through the “how can I serve you?” lens.

So many entrepreneurs recommend this book, it’s become a must-read. Carnegie writes in parables and stories, demonstrating precepts in a way we can remember. If we combine the principles of this book with our specific knowledge in our own industries, we’ll have the basic tools to start any business off right.