Raise your hand if you know about Andrew Carnegie. For those of you who don’t, he was a steel magnate who amassed a fortune during the 1800s that would be worth more than $250 billion in today’s dollars. To put this in perspective, Carnegie would have more money than the top three richest men today, combined.
Carnegie brutally cut through conventions, competitors, and people in his way when he wanted to achieve an objective. For example, during his twenties, he worked for the Pennsylvania railroad and set a stalled train car on fire to prevent further delays on the railroad. Let me repeat that. He set fire to an expensive piece of machinery to prevent delays…
While his coworkers picked their jaws up from the ground, the top executives at the Pennsylvania railroad discovered that Carnegie was right! Destroying the train car was much more efficient than fixing it.
But how ironic is that? The world’s largest corporation (in 1800s) handled one of their biggest problems the wrong way until some punk-kid named Andy changed everything. Now, here is what you can learn from Carnegie’s maverick-like experience:
Discover Your True Objective
After a train crash, railroad executives had one main objective and it was to prevent further delays. Prior to Carnegie, they prevented further delays in a roundabout way — fix the train and move it out of the way. However, Carnegie broke the task down to its core — prevent delays — and skipped everything in between.
Focus on Your Actions (not your explanations)
If Carnegie proposed “burn the train” to the senior management at Pennsylvania railroad, they would have laughed in his face. Why would they want to destroy an expensive piece of machinery? However, when Carnegie did it without permission, the senior management skipped over whether the decision was logical and decided whether it was efficient and in this case, it was very efficient.
Please note, I’m not telling you to burn or destroy anything. I am using Carnegie’s experience as an example.
Destroy Existing Standards (and Create New Ones)
Carnegie loved best practices, but he realized that there was a point where you needed to tear down existing standards and create some new ones. When he burned that first train car, he destroyed an established best-practice of fixing the broken trains. This was a major risk, but it made sense and it became a new best practice. Now, just remember, today’s conventions were yesterday’s innovations, so ensure that you do something today to innovate.
What Do You Think?
Do you know any other Andrew Carnegie stories? Do you think these tactics still apply today? Leave some comments!
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