How did Andrew Carnegie, the man with the world’s largest steel empire, rise from no money, no opportunity, and no connections — to the richest man alive?
I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching Carnegie’s success, and here are the 5 best lessons from the man himself.
1. Get Out Of The Shade
One afternoon, a young man walked into Carnegie’s office to interview him about his success. Carnegie could have told the young man about his journey from poverty to riches or about his wild dealings with John Rockefeller. But instead, Carnegie talked about something else.
Carnegie said the most important thing in his life was his “ability to shed trouble and to laugh through life.” He said that seeing life through a lens of positivity was worth more to him than millions of dollars.
“Young people should know that it can be cultivated,” Carnegie said. “The mind, like the body, can be moved from the shade into sunshine.”
And it makes good business sense, too. By not getting weighed down by the negative, Carnegie could keep his focus on the positive, bounce back from failures faster, and see opportunities where other people didn’t know they existed.
Ask yourself: do you sometimes slip into pessimistic thoughts and negative self-talk? Are you missing opportunities because you let your mind fall under “the shade”? How much would your business grow if you taped a note above your desk that reads: “move your mind into the sunshine”?
2. Tell Him to Keep the Ten Thousand
Carnegie and J.P. Morgan were once partners in a business. One day Morgan wanted to buy out Carnegie’s stake, so Morgan asked how much he wanted for it.
Carnegie said his shares were worth $50,000, plus he wanted an extra $10,000 on top — so a total of $60,000. Morgan agreed to the terms. But the next morning, Carnegie got a call.
“Mr. Carnegie, you were mistaken,” Morgan said. “You sold out for $10,000 less than the statement showed to your credit.” Morgan had calculated that Carnegie’s stake was actually worth $60,000, and with the additional $10,000, that made $70,000. So Morgan sent Carnegie a check for the full $70,000.
Carnegie responded by telling Morgan to keep the extra $10,000 — which, adjusted for inflation, is over $130,000 today. Morgan replied, “No thank you. I cannot do that.”
When reflecting on this story, Carnegie wrote, “A great business is built on lines of the strictest integrity.” He learned from Morgan that it is better to lose money in the short-term if that means maintaining your reputation for the long-term.
Think hard about this: Is your business doing everything it can to ensure that reputation comes before profits?
3. Follow the Rule of Nine-Tenths
There was a story that changed Carnegie’s life. It’s about an old man who lived a life of many tragic events. People in the town pitied him, but the old man said, “Yes, my friends, all that you say is true. I have had a long life full of troubles. But there is one curious fact about them – nine-tenths of them never happened.”
Carnegie learned from that story that most of the problems and “what if’s” we imagine almost never occur. Our brains have a tendency to dream up the worst-case scenarios and act accordingly — yet most of those almost never happen. And even if they do occur, they’re almost never as bad as we imagine.
By reminding himself of the “rule of nine-tenths,” Carnegie freed himself from the fear of the unknown and was able to take the risks he needed to achieve his radical success.
Be honest with yourself: Do you get caught up on the “what if’s”? Would your life be better if you followed the rule of “nine-tenths” and reminded yourself that most of those problems won’t actually happen? Are you willing to make a commitment right now to live by that rule?
4. Jump On ‘Flashes of Lightning’
When Carnegie was hired for his first job, the interviewer asked him how soon he could start. Most people would have asked for a couple of weeks to transition. But Carnegie’s answer? “I can start right now.”
“It would have been a great mistake not to seize the opportunity,” Carnegie wrote. “The position was offered to me; something might occur, some other boy might be sent for. Having got myself in I proposed to stay there if I could.”
Carnegie didn’t overthink it. He preferred to act quickly and risk something going wrong than to act slowly and risk losing the opportunity entirely.
And this rule worked in reverse, too. When Carnegie realized he owned shares in a company he didn’t like anymore, he told his partner to sell all the shares right away. When his partner said there’s no rush, Carnegie shot back, “Do it instantly!” And good thing he did… that company soon went bankrupt.
Of course, it’s important to study the facts, but if you’re presented with a real opportunity, don’t risk losing it by taking your time. As Carnegie would say, jump on the “flash of lightning.”
How many opportunities do you think have passed you by because you didn’t jump on them right away? Are you ready to act like Carnegie and make your answer “I can start right now”?
5. Find Your “$2.50” Motivation
Early in his career, Carnegie was given a bonus of $2.50. When he gave the bonus to his parents to help support the family, he said “no subsequent success, or recognition of any kind, ever thrilled me as this did… Here was heaven upon earth.”
And from that point on, Carnegie knew he wanted to be rich. But not for himself. He dreamt of making the money for his parents, so they could live a good life.
As soon as Carnegie identified that external motivation, his drive turned into high gear. The key is that he wasn’t motivated to help himself. He was motivated to help someone else.
So whether you’re doing it for your parents, your children, or to help people who don’t even know your name — you need to have that motivation clearly in your mind to fuel you through the inevitable hardships on your journey to success.
Are you clear on who your “$2.50” motivation is? Who are you doing it all for, other than yourself? If you don’t know, figure it out. And if you do know, how can you remind yourself of that “$2.50” motivation everyday?
Andrew Carnegie is proof that if you work hard, keep your mind “out of the shade,” take risks, act quickly, and build a reputation of the strictest integrity — anything is possible.
And the craziest part? Carnegie is just one example of how it’s possible to work your way from poverty to radical success.