How Carnegie’s Metamorphosis Signaled the Rise of a New Culture


Dale Carnegie rule number one

“His resolve is not to seem, but to be, the best.”

[Aeschylus]

It is no accident that the television series Mad Men was conceived and ran successfully for eight years in the United States, winning five Golden Globes. This is the land that coined lines like:

Strangers' eye, keen and critical.

Can you meet them proudly — confidently – without fear?

In print adverts for soap circa 1922. The show is a dramatized version of one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s. It focuses on one of the firm's most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives — Don Draper.

Quite a few years after a skinny, nonathletic, and insecure high school student from Harmony Church — a small town about a hundred miles from Kansas City in Missouri — impressed by the value of public speaking, goes on to hold a sold out class in New York City several years later.

The trigger was a visiting Chautauqua speaker based in New York. He was part of an adult education movement quite popular throughout rural America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His supremely relatable rags-to-riches tale captured the boy's imagination.

Post college coincided with the years corporate America was booming — ford, J.C. Penney, Woolworth, and Sears Roebuck were household names. Still fairly poor, but young and ambitious he joins the ranks of salesmen. They are social operators, people “with a ready smile, a masterful handshake, and the ability to get along with colleagues while simultaneously outshining them.”

Speaker, author, and business tycoon

Dale changes his name from Carnegey to Carnegie and goes on to hold a class that becomes an overnight sensation and the first brick of what would become the Dale Carnegie Institute. In Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking Susain Cain tells of his metamorphosis from farm boy to accomplished salesman and public speaking icon because it signals a broader cultural movement.

She says:

Carnegie's journey reflected a cultural evolution that reached a tipping point around the turn of the twentieth century, changing forever who we are and whom we admire, how we act at job interviews and what we look for in an employee, how we court our mates and raise our children.

America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality — and opened up a Pandora's Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.

In the Culture of Character, the ideal was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as one behaved in private. The word personality didn't exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality was not widespread until the twentieth.”

But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. “The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of the performer,” Susman famously wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”

Industrial America was a major force to drive this phenomenon, which transformed “Citizens” into “employees.” By the 1920's the attributes that made for a good person shifted from modesty and inner virtue to outer charm.

It's just business.

Fatal attraction

Self-help guides followed “to know what to say and how to say it,” because “to create a personality is power,” and everyone should “try in every way to have a ready command of the manners which make people think 'he's a mighty likable fellow.”

About one and a half centuries after Mme de Staël was celebrated for her conversational eloquence and renown for the Salons she held at Coppet Castle and Paris over the arc of twenty five years, learning the art of conversation became important in the United States.

The new operating words became “magnetic,” “fascinating,” “stunning,” “attractive,” “dominant,” “forceful,” “energetic.” The value of formality began to disappear. It was Hollywood's stars moment. Naturally, the ad industry cranked the volume with courtship transformed into high-stakes performance scenes.

But even in this new environment, women were held to a different standard — a quieter, more modest, supporting role — with some class distinctions thrown in for good measure. A far cry from de Staël's intellectual and political influence on the Renaissance.

Since not everyone was equipped with innate charm and confidence, psychologists went to work to help people deal with the pressure of demonstrating flawless performance. Hence the inferiority complex was born. Viennese psychologist Alfred Adler developed the term, says Cain:

to describe feelings of inadequacy and their consequences. “Do you feel insecure?” inquired the cover of Adler's bestselling book, Understanding Human Nature. “Are you fainthearted?” “Are submissive?”

[…]

The idea of wrapping their social anxieties in the neat package of a psychological complex appealed to many Americans. The inferiority complex became an all-purpose explanation for problems in many areas of life, ranging from love to parenting to career. 

Everyone had one, it seemed. Thus everyone had to go get a winning personality. Scientists had to be researchers and sell it, and entire organizations embraced the “selling” mantra with gusto.

Nothing personal, it just is

Of course, says Cain, extroversion existed before then, in our DNA. And it was parts of the fabric that made the United States before it became a cultural phenomenon. Early Americans were people of action who had left behind the aristocratic intellectual salons of Europe. But the pressure to literally sell our selves, came later.

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator — an introspective self-report questionnaire designed to indicate psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions — was constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers during World War II. But it was conceived around 1917 and inspired by Carl Jung's typological theory published in English in 1923.

Briggs and Myers believed that#:

a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs that would be “most comfortable and effective” for them. The Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook was published in 1944. The indicator changed its name to “Myers–Briggs Type Indicator” in 1956.

Its use spread and it is still employed in organizations today. However, the science behind it is highly questionable. There are numerous critiques of it, but the most obvious flaw is that it relies exclusively on binary choices, “for example, in the category of extrovert v introvert, you're either one or the other; there is no middle ground.” It also provides a “limited and simplified view of human personality, which is a very complex and tricky concept to pin down and study.”

Personality not only just is, but it is also more complex than the Myers-Briggs seems to indicate. Most of us fall somewhere in between extrovert and introvert. Susan Cain says there is a term for those of us who are about equal parts, and maybe switch based on context — ambiverts. I am one.

When we come to appreciate the nuances we learn to understand ourselves better, be smarter about our needs.

How we show up, according to science

When we look at the science of personality, we find each of us has a combination of varying degrees of five elements of personality, says Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman — three that give us stability, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and two that provide plasticity, extraversion* and openness/intellect.

  • Most of the stability aspect of personality are driven by serotonin#, the lighter circles in the image above
  • The bolder circles denote traits driven by dopamine#

Two main dimensions at the top and various aspects of how the five levels manifest themselves. For example, says Kaufman, “neuroticism has an emotional aspect of withdrawal and volatility. The introversion/extraversion dimension has this enthusiasm and a general form of assertiveness.”

And underneath them, there are even more finely differentiated elements. For example, “under assertiveness, we may be assertive in some settings and not in others,” it's situational. 

We share this ancestral rewards dimension with other animals. A second reward system is associated with the potential reward value of information. This means we can become excited about the potential reward value of understanding things. Gaining information is a reward potential that has developed in humans, says Kaufman.

We typically associate introversion with shyness, but that is not necessarily the case, says Cain. Instead, she found that there is a better term to describe quiet people — and that is sensitive. Following ground-breaking research by Jerome Kagan, who used the term high-reactive in his studies, she learned that this quality manifested as “alert attention,” the ability to notice, alertness, sensitivity to nuance — a complex emotional environment.

But maybe we've been asking the wrong question all along, says Cain. How we show up is based on “how our inborn temperament interacts with the environment and our own free will.”

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Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking is full of surprises and has combines seminal research on the topic with good storytelling.

There are probably as many stories about Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People as copies sold over the years.

 

[* Dr. Kaufman on the origins of this spelling]

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