#74 Andrew Carnegie

Summary Notes


In this episode, the host discusses the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, emphasizing Carnegie's journey from a poor Scottish boy to a steel magnate in America, his philosophy of optimism, and his systematic approach to philanthropy. Carnegie's belief in the "Gospel of Wealth" set a precedent for future millionaires, advocating for the distribution of wealth for the public good. The host reflects on Carnegie's early adoption of a positive mental attitude, his conviction that a sunny disposition can be cultivated, and his grand rule of life to fear only one's own reproach. Carnegie's business acumen is highlighted, particularly his focus on quality, cost accounting, and investment in technology, as well as his strategy of concentrating efforts on a single business. The episode also touches on Carnegie's views on labor and wages, suggesting that treating employees well leads to greater business success.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Andrew Carnegie's Autobiography

  • Andrew Carnegie is a notable figure in history for his journey from a poor Scottish boy to a great steelmaster in America.
  • Carnegie built a colossal industry, amassed a great fortune, and gave it away for the betterment of mankind.
  • He established the "gospel of wealth," setting a precedent for future millionaires in philanthropy.

"Nothing stranger ever came out of the story of this poor scotch boy who came to America and step by step, through many trials and triumphs, became the great steelmaster, built up a colossal industry, amassed an enormous fortune, and then deliberately and systematically gave away the whole of it for the enlightenment and betterment of mankind."

The quote encapsulates Carnegie's remarkable life journey and his philanthropic legacy, which has set a standard for wealthy individuals to contribute to society.

Optimism as a Default Approach to Life

  • Andrew Carnegie and other influential figures often exhibit a default level of optimism.
  • Carnegie attributes his optimistic nature and ability to "shed trouble" to his grandfather.
  • He emphasizes the importance of cultivating a sunny disposition, which he deems more valuable than a fortune.

"I think my optimistic nature and my ability to shed trouble and to laugh through life, making all my ducks swans, as my friends say I do, must have been inherited from my grandfather."

This quote reflects Carnegie's belief in the inherited nature of optimism and the importance of a positive outlook on life.

"A sunny disposition is worth more than a fortune. Young people should know that it can be cultivated, that the mind, like the body, can be moved from the shade into sunshine."

Carnegie asserts the value of a positive attitude and the ability to develop it actively, similar to physical fitness.

The Grand Rule of Life

  • Carnegie's grand rule of life revolves around the internal judgment of one's actions.
  • He believes that you can only maintain a positive outlook if you have not done wrong, as the internal judge cannot be cheated.
  • Self-reproach from wrongdoing remains and cannot be escaped.

"The judge within sits in the supreme court and can never be cheated. Hence the grand rule of, and this is his grand rule of life. Thine own reproach alone do fear."

Carnegie emphasizes the importance of self-assessment and the inescapability of one's conscience in evaluating personal actions and efforts.

Impact of Technological Displacement on Carnegie's Family

  • Andrew Carnegie's father was displaced by the shift from hand loom to steam loom weaving.
  • This displacement led to poverty for Carnegie's family and motivated him to build wealth to avoid similar circumstances.

"The change from hand loom to steam loom weaving, his dad was a weaver, was disastrous to our family."

The quote highlights the direct impact of technological advancement on employment and livelihood, as experienced by Carnegie's family.

Early Childhood and Work Ethic

  • Carnegie's early childhood involved a sense of duty and usefulness to his family from the age of ten.
  • He developed a sense of business affairs and a trait of disagreeableness or combativeness.
  • His struggle with school attendance due to work responsibilities instilled in him a drive and determination.

"I had the satisfaction of feeling that had become useful to my parents, even at the early age of ten."

Carnegie reflects on the gratification of contributing to his family's well-being at a young age, which played a role in shaping his work ethic.

Encouragement of Memorization in Youth

  • Carnegie advocates for the memorization of favorite pieces as a means of benefiting young people.
  • He notes that passion for a subject greatly enhances the ability to learn and retain information.

"I cannot name a more important means of benefiting young people than encouraging them to commit favorite pieces to memory and recite them often."

The quote stresses the educational value of memorization and recitation as tools for intellectual development in young people.

Passion and Its Role in Success

  • Jeff Bezos believes passions are not chosen by individuals, but rather passions choose them.
  • Following passions can provide a significant advantage over those who do not love what they do.
  • The difficulty of sticking with something is mitigated by genuine interest and love for the task or field.
  • Repeated exposure to ideas is recommended to fully grasp their evolving meanings over time.
  • Personal growth and change can alter one's perspective and interpretation of ideas and texts.

Jeff Bezos has this great quote, and he's like, listen, you don't choose your passions. They choose you.

This quote encapsulates the idea that passions are innate and not a matter of choice, suggesting that success is more likely when one's work aligns with their natural interests.

Because as you change throughout time, the meaning of that changes as well.

This highlights the dynamic nature of understanding and how personal development can shift the way one perceives and values information or advice.

Steve Jobs on Passion and Perseverance

  • Steve Jobs emphasized the necessity of passion in one's work due to the inherent difficulties and challenges.
  • Passion is what allows individuals to persevere through tough times when rationality alone might compel them to quit.
  • Success, according to societal standards, often correlates with one's love for their work.
  • The hard work and constant worry involved in any endeavor are more bearable and worthwhile if there is a love for the work being done.

People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you're doing. And it's totally true. And the reason is because it's so hard that if you don't, any rational person would give up.

Steve Jobs articulates the critical role of passion in overcoming the hardships of pursuing one's goals, suggesting that without passion, most people would not endure the challenges.

The Intersection of Money, Happiness, and Passion

  • Working solely for money can be unfulfilling and may not lead to happiness.
  • The example of Steve Jobs shows that even those who have achieved financial success early in life continue to pursue their passions for fulfillment.
  • The idea that a life well-lived, even if shorter, is preferable to a long life of misery is presented as a valuable perspective.

He made more money before he's 25 than he was set for life. He came back to Apple, took no compensation in 97. Why would somebody do that? They clearly love what they're doing, even if it's really hard.

This reflects on Steve Jobs' return to Apple and his motivation beyond financial gain, suggesting that passion for one's work can be a driving force even when monetary needs are already met.

Andrew Carnegie's Insights on Success and Human Nature

  • Andrew Carnegie valued the ability to organize people and recognized it as a key factor in his success.
  • He believed that understanding human nature was more critical than understanding machinery or technical details.
  • Carnegie's early business ventures revealed his knack for motivating people through non-monetary rewards.
  • He attributed his material success to his ability to choose and work with people who were more knowledgeable than himself.

The only reason I made all this money, I was able to do the things I was able to do is because I had one skill, and the skill was organizing large groups of people to work in cohesion.

Carnegie attributes his success to his organizational skills and ability to unite people towards a common goal, rather than his technical knowledge.

The Importance of Independence and Hard Work

  • Andrew Carnegie's desire to work hard was fueled by a determination to avoid poverty and dependence on others.
  • He set a goal for his family to achieve financial independence and took an active role in managing the family's finances.
  • Carnegie's satisfaction derived from contributing to his family's well-being and being part of something larger than himself.

My thoughts at this period centered in the determination that we should make and save enough money to produce $300 a year, $25 monthly.

Carnegie's focus on financial independence for his family underscores the value he placed on self-reliance and the importance of setting clear financial goals.

Andrew Carnegie's Work Ethic and Optimism

  • Despite working in difficult conditions, Carnegie maintained a positive outlook and found satisfaction in his ability to contribute to his family.
  • His optimism is highlighted by his ability to find a silver lining in adverse situations, such as being more hungry for supper after losing his breakfast due to the work environment.
  • Rapid promotions and seizing opportunities immediately are emphasized as key behaviors for success.

I have made millions since then, but none of those millions gave me such happiness as my first week's earnings.

This quote reflects Carnegie's sense of fulfillment from his early contributions to his family's livelihood, which outweighed the joy from his later financial successes.

Books as a Vehicle for Self-Improvement and Kindness

  • Carnegie valued self-improvement and acknowledged the role of books in achieving it.
  • He recognized the importance of acts of kindness, as they are remembered for a long time.
  • Access to literature through Colonel James Anderson's library was a turning point for Carnegie's self-education.

Colonel James Anderson, I, bless his name as I write this, announced that he would open his library of 400 volumes to boys so that any young man could take out each Saturday afternoon a book which could be exchanged for another on the succeeding Saturday.

This quote illustrates the impact that access to books and knowledge had on Carnegie's life, emphasizing the importance of self-education and the generosity of others in providing opportunities for growth.

Early Influence and Philanthropy

  • An older gentleman's act of kindness in offering free book access had a profound impact on Andrew, inspiring him to fund public libraries.
  • Andrew's philanthropic efforts were fueled by the desire to give back, emulating the kindness he experienced in his youth.

"Andrew also talks about, because he funded later in his life, Andrew found it out like 400 public libraries, something like some ridiculous number like that."

This quote highlights Andrew's extensive contribution to public libraries, emphasizing his commitment to philanthropy inspired by personal experiences.

Financial Acumen and Cost Control

  • Andrew was deeply involved in family finances from a young age, learning to control costs and understand expenditures.
  • His focus was on saving every penny and knowing the exact financial situation of his family, which translated into his business practices.

"Every penny that I could save I knew was needed at home. My parents were wise and nothing was withheld from me."

The quote reflects Andrew's early understanding of the value of money and the importance of financial transparency within his family, which shaped his approach to business.

Embracing Opportunities and Skill Acquisition

  • Andrew did not waste opportunities to learn new skills, understanding that they could lead to unforeseen opportunities.
  • His initiative to learn telegraphy in his spare time eventually led to significant career advancements and business opportunities.

"Whenever one learns to do anything, he has never to wait long for an opportunity of putting his knowledge to use."

This quote underscores the value of proactively learning new skills and the belief that such skills will eventually find practical application, as demonstrated by Andrew's own experience.

Taking Initiative and Career Advancement

  • Andrew's decision to take initiative during a crisis at the Pennsylvania Railroad demonstrated his ability to act beyond his prescribed duties.
  • His proactive approach attracted the attention of higher officials and led to further career opportunities and promotions.

"The battle of life is already half won by the young man who is brought personally in contact with high officials."

The quote suggests that personal interaction with high-ranking individuals combined with exceeding one's duties can significantly influence career progression, as evidenced by Andrew's experiences.

Quality as a Business Foundation

  • Andrew's bridge building company, Keystone Bridgeworks, prioritized quality, which became the foundation of its success.
  • Despite competition, the company's commitment to quality and safety earned it a reputation that often led to winning contracts over lower bids.

"The surest foundation of a business is the quality of its product."

This quote encapsulates Andrew's business philosophy, highlighting that product quality is crucial for long-term success and can create a competitive advantage.

Importance of Workplace Environment

  • Maintaining a clean and well-organized work environment contributes to overall business quality and success.
  • Attention to detail in the workplace reflects on the quality of the product and the business as a whole.

"Clean, fine workshops and tools, well kept yards and the surroundings are of much greater importance than is usually supposed."

The quote stresses the significance of a well-maintained workplace, suggesting that the state of one's work environment is indicative of their approach to business and product quality.

Cost Accounting in Manufacturing

  • Andrew was surprised to find that many manufacturers were unaware of their costs until annual stocktaking.
  • He implemented a system of accounting that tracked costs and performance, leading to a more efficient and profitable operation.

"I insisted upon such a system of weighing and accounting being introduced throughout our works, as would enable us to know what our cost was for each process."

This quote reflects Andrew's drive to introduce accountability and precision into manufacturing processes, emphasizing the importance of understanding and managing costs.

Embracing Technological Advancements

  • Andrew recognized the importance of staying abreast of technological developments in the iron and steel industry.
  • He invested in new technologies promptly, leveraging the compounding savings they offered.

"He's one of the first people to invest in. He would keep an eye on the new technology in iron and steel, and then when a better process came along, he would immediately jump on it."

The quote highlights Andrew's forward-thinking approach to business, showing his readiness to adopt innovations that could improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Initial Criticisms of Andrew Carnegie's Investments

  • Older Pittsburgh manufacturers criticized Andrew Carnegie's expenditures on new furnaces.
  • Critics focused on the immediate cost, not the long-term savings.
  • Carnegie's new furnaces could save almost half the waste in heating large masses of material.
  • It took many years for others to adopt the new furnaces, during which Carnegie's savings were significant.

"I well remember the criticisms made by older heads among the Pittsburgh manufacturers about the extravagant expenditures we were making upon the new fangled furnaces."

This quote highlights the initial skepticism and criticism faced by Carnegie for investing heavily in new technology, which was seen as extravagant at the time.

Importance of Attention and Focus in Business

  • Andrew Carnegie believed in concentrating on one's own business and not being distracted by other investments.
  • He sold all interests in external companies to focus on his manufacturing concerns in Pittsburgh.
  • Carnegie avoided owning stocks that could distract him from his business decisions.
  • He believed that good judgment in business requires a calm and undisturbed mind.

"As I determined to sell all my interests in every outside concern. And concentrate all my attention upon my manufacturing concerns in Pittsburgh."

This quote emphasizes Carnegie's strategic decision to divest from external interests and direct his full attention to his primary business, exemplifying his belief in the power of focus.

The Value of Optimism Over Anxiety

  • Carnegie learned the importance of optimism and the futility of worrying about potential problems.
  • He shared a story about an old man who realized most of his worries never materialized.
  • Carnegie advocated for confronting issues as they arise rather than anticipating the worst.

"Nine tenths of them never happened."

This quote, from a story shared by Carnegie, illustrates the prevalence of unnecessary worry and the wisdom in maintaining optimism rather than succumbing to anxiety.

Investment in One's Own Business

  • Andrew Carnegie believed in investing in one's own business rather than diversifying.
  • He felt that scattering resources was not conducive to preeminent success.
  • Carnegie advised young men to concentrate their capital and effort on their chosen business.
  • He practiced this by focusing solely on the manufacture of iron and steel.

"I would concentrate upon the manufacture of iron and steel and be the master of that."

Carnegie's quote underscores his commitment to specializing in his chosen industry and his belief in the effectiveness of focusing one's investments and efforts in a single area.

Labor and Wages Philosophy

  • Carnegie believed in paying higher wages to contented employees as a wise investment.
  • He suggested that employee retention leads to continuity and efficiency.
  • He criticized the practice of minimizing wages, suggesting it could ultimately lead to lesser profits.

"I believe that higher wages to men who respect their employers and are happy and contented are a good investment, yielding indeed big dividends."

This quote reflects Carnegie's philosophy that fair and respectable wages contribute to a positive work environment, which in turn can yield significant returns for the business.

Andrew Carnegie's Unfinished Autobiography

  • Carnegie's autobiography ends abruptly with the phrase "nothing is impossible to genius."
  • The unfinished nature of the manuscript is attributed to his preoccupation with World War I and politics.
  • The podcast host appreciates the book's ending and shares a link for interested listeners.

"Nothing is impossible to genius here. The manuscript ends abruptly."

The final words of Carnegie's autobiography serve as a testament to his belief in the boundless potential of human ingenuity, despite the autobiography remaining incomplete.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy