Success In America

Lemann, Nicholas

Success In America by Nicholas Lemann Weíre a nation obsessed with Success and how it is achieved-with good reason, because the possibility of success is what fuels so many of us. So central...

...The life stories of its members are strikingly different from those of their counterparts today...
...the rest came to lead institutions others had founded years before...
...From there on it was a life of accumulating impressive positions in the well-established institutions of business, education, law, or government-or, most often, some combinaticin of them...
...But like true love, success in America is hard to define in the abstract-itís more that we know it when we see it...
...Michael Blumenthalís parents were refugees from the Nazis, and he grew up in wartime Shanghai and came to the United States penniless...
...Blumenthal was the youngest man of ambassadorial rank in the Kennedy administration...
...However unattractive John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford may have been, they did create a corporate structure, based on new technology, that came to dominate America...
...But this story in particular was something Hubbard had "no special desire to tell in detail...
...Since their time, the energy establishment and its spinoffs have grown large and prosperous and a little fat, to the point where itís clear that the oil companies, the car manufacturers, and the utilities, along with the law firms they spawned, the universities they funded, and the government agencies that sprang up largely in response to their excesses, cannot solve the problems of the world they control...
...College, which a all eleven Cabinet members attended, was not in itself the great determining step-only Vance and Brown spent their undergraduate years in the Ivy League, presumably because the o t h e r s werenít affluent or well-connected enough tu be part of the world that goes there...
...Harold Brown was director at the Livermore Laboratory at 32, number-three man at the Pentagon at 33, and president of the California Institute of Technology at 42...
...ends meet...
...Most of the members of the Cabinet were wunderkinds at some stage of their careers...
...In the Russo-Japanese War...
...The Message is a 1,500-word lioniz...
...From the signing of the Declaration of Independence on, of course, there has always been a class of leaders in this country who knew each other and who functioned more or less as a group, but the way they attain their leadership positions now is different from what it once was...
...By and large, Rooseveltís Cabinet members succeeded in the same meritocratic way as Carterís-through their own efforts rather than inherited advantage...
...if it's discussed at all, takes a distant back seal to how to get the corner office...
...Benjamin Franklin's The Way to Wealth was the new nation's first bestseller, and s i n c e its publication, there have been hundreds more prescriptions to success that have sold well and been studied assiduously...
...But bureaucratic getting along with everyone...
...An Emblematic Change In short, weíve gone from a Cabinet of entrepreneurs to a Cabinet of bureaucrats...
...A few weeks ago Rusk gave the newspapers a rare interview on foreign policy, a subject on which he usually prefers to be discreet...
...disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came oul on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia...
...in a l;isviiinlini> study of this liU'riituiv.1 called ///<ē American Idea of Success, calls these two creeds the "character ethic" and the ''personalis i- l h i c " .nut s l i i uw t h a t the transition from one to the other has been dramatic and complete...
...Right now a convenient group example of recently anointed success is Jimmy Carterís Cabinet, whose members, taken together, provide a useful picture of the particulars of the way upward...
...Carnegie was a salesman, actor, and elocutionist from a small town in Missouri who made Ins name teaching public speaking courses in YMC'As: his book is a guide to popularity, and through it, material success...
...Itís those organizations that are the route to the top, rather than smaller or newer ones...
...This kind of contact was especially important, and the Cabinet members have lived lives generally full of contacts, built up through varied service, through memberships on boards, through political work, through advising the government...
...All three of Rooseveltís Attorneys General started their own law firms, and so did four other members of his Cabinet...
...The energy world was invented in a short period around the turn of the century, and having lived out its natural life in its present form, it needs to be reinvented today...
...Writ large, all these qualities produce a sluggish, change-avoiding nation...
...As lluber points out, success literature has to be taken with a grain of salt because it's geared in large measure to producing loyal servants of whatever elite happens to be governing at the moment but it still shows what qualities that elite values most highly...
...But whether you're advised to smile at your co-worker or stab him in the back, the use of interpersonal skills in a bureaucratic setting is still the crux of the matter...
...Because they owe their own success to getting good grades, amassing titles, and impressing university boards, foundation directors, corporate managers, and Presidents, they are likely to continue to focus on these things, and to encourage them in their employees...
...Carterís lawyers joined well-established firms...
...The strongest impression that emerges from the groupís lives is that success in America is achieved by gathering those honors that are conferred by the nationís established organizational structure...
...The change in Cabinets is emblematic of a change in the nature of success in America...
...Instead, the first big boost usually came with the founding of some sort of business at a relatively early age...
...Having risen in large and stable institutions, theyíve acquired a vested interest in the way things are, and major change can never seem sensible...
...ity had "contributed most to your success...
...Only one of the Cabinet members, Bob Bergland, ever started his own business early in life...
...Whatís more striking is how many went on to get graduate degrees-nine of the eleven, four of whom have Ph.D.s...
...Its author was aji eccentric soap salesman turned author named Elbert Hubbard, who edited The Philistine and who wrote the Message in an hour one evening after his son s had casually suggested the idea...
...Rowan, as Hubbard told it...
...Patricia Roberts Harrisí father was a dining-car waiter...
...How to Get ft, How to Use It...
...But as the nature of success has changed, so have the prescript ions, i Until about 1930, success literature, following Franklin's lead, stressed ilirifl and industry: since then the emphasis has shifted to the ability to deal u i i l i other people...
...In Rooseveltís day the entrepreneur was widely lionized...
...Clearly, national problems 2nd the nature of personal ambition go hand-in-hand...
...At 34 Joseph Califano b e c ame Lyndon Johnsonís most important aide...
...A case in point is energy...
...He was asked to comment on Andrew Youngís - alarming habit of actually saying efficiently with welfare or crime, itís í forthrightly what is true about foreign become standard to blame it on affairs, rather than concentrating on bureaucracy...
...Hard work and ingenuity aren't even mentioned...
...every schoolchild was made familiar with the stories of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, George Washington Carver, and other men who had raised themselves from obscurity by working hard and inventing, or discovering, or founding something new...
...in fact, it has changed markedly over the years...
...But unlike todayís Cabinet members, their careers didnít necessarily rest on an educational base...
...Because our leaders have been conditioned to focus on rising within the company, rather than on what the company does, theyíre often beaten by their foreign counterparts on matters of technological and other kinds of innovation...
...His successor, George B. Cortelyou, set himself up in business as a stenographer, and worked his way up through a series of important clients...
...They became the kind of people any new President would be aware of, and although they came from various locales and walks of life itís hard to ihagine that at the first Cabinet meeting many introductions had to be made...
...and eventually informed guesses are that the circulation of A Message to Garcia reached 40 million...
...The closer a student can hew to the top of the hierarchy, the more successful he and his peers consider himself...
...The greatests paradigms of success then had something to do with energydigging up its raw materials, refining and shipping it, inventing ways to use it to light and heat and transport America...
...Within a big, diversified corporation, the prestige ranking of the four major divisions goes like this: corporate finance is best, then internal management, then sales...
...Juanita Kreps grew up in a dirt-poor coal-mining town in Kentucky...
...In other words, learning to please employers produces the kinds of results Rusk gave America during his Vietnam-era stewardship of the State Department-exactly what we donít need...
...Bob Bergland, even in his twenties, had to leave his farm in Minnesota during the winters to take construction work in Florida to make Nicholas Lemann is an editor of The Washington Monthly...
...The Establishment is so established in America that it appears eternal...
...Itís easy to see this from looking at an exactly comparable group of 75 years ago, the Cabinet of Theodore Roosevelt...
...The most popular success tract of the early 20th century was a little essay called A Message In Garcia, which must once have been familiar to practically every American who could read, and many who couldn't...
...Whether it means wealth, or fame, or power, or just happiness can all be debated endlessly...
...As a result, the enterprise-starter has given way as a national model of success to the riser through the ranks, like the members of todayís Cabinet...
...Also, as the economy has shifted its weight increasingly away from production and towards services, it has come to reward expertise and interpersonal skills more than innovation...
...It was first published in a magazine called The Philistine in 1899:" from there the New York Central Railroad picked it up and reprinted more than a million copies...
...When Carter picked them, it was because of the titles and reputations institutional life has given them...
...the soldiers of both sides carried copies in their knapsacks: and in this country, it was an enduring favorite of school i teachers, ministers, and businessmen...
...In 1946 Fortune asked executives to say which single qua...
...Ethan Hitchcock, the Interior Secretary, made a fortune in the commission business in China and then founded the first successful plate glass factory in America...
...A ranking according to national need might be precisely the reverse, but because of what currently constitutes success, the ablest young businessmen will troop off to juggle investments instead of concentrating on improving their products...
...Army lieutenant .named Andrew S. Rowan, who during, the Spanish-American War carried, on the instructions of President McKinley, a vital message to General Calixito Garcia y Inigues, the Cuban insurgent leader, who was hiding out somewhere in the mountains at the time...
...The path to the top is a reflection of the nature of America, and in turn helps shape the country...
...and starting a business is considered too impossibly risky even to consider...
...Willy Loman summed up his successful days to his sons by saying that he had been not just liked, but well liked...
...The Class of Leaders At first glance, success in America may seem to have been ever thus, but t h a t is not the case...
...Although some of their parents were comfortably middle-class, none were wealthy and several were genuinely pbor...
...Several clear patterns emerge from the life stories of the Cabinet members, and the first is their relatively humble origins...
...The trouble is, our natural inclination is to entrust this grave problem to our most successful people-who by the nature of their success are uniquely unsuited to deal with it...
...So central is the notion of success to the way we operate and think of ourselves that it explains a lot about our society...
...And if anyone fears the tide may be abating, be heartened by the news that Korda is back on the fall publishing lists with a new studyócalled Sucbess...
...If the Message was the great classic of the character ethic, the analagous milestone for the personality ethic was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, which since its publication in 1936 has sold more than eight million copies in English alone and spawned a series of instructional courses that have graduated hundreds of thousands more...
...the majority answered "ability to handle people...
...It is not book learning young men need," Hubbard wrote, "or instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate then- energies: do the thing...
...The personality ethic caught on quickly...
...How to Win Friends is divided into sections, like "Funda mental Techniques in Handling Peo pie," "Six Ways to Make People Like You," and "Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking...
...In the seventies the books have taken on what we've called a screw your-buddy tone, as can be seen in the titles of two of the most successful recent ones, Robert Ringer's Winning Through Intimidation and Michael Korda's Power...
...Good grades, and the degrees they brought, gave these people an important first push...
...New Deal...
...They also were good at becoming proteges to men who helped them along-Brown to Robert McNamara, Cyrus Vance to Lyndon Johnson, Califano to Vance and then Johnson himself...
...When our corporations canít build the best small cars or televisions, when our government canít deal directlv and The Explicit Tie A couple of examples, one from business and one from the government, show how explicit is the tie between the way to success and our larger social ills...
...In the years following^the publication of How to Win Friends, millions of Americans bought books and products designed to make them smell nice,Took pleasant, speak con yincingly, smile well, develop a con genial manner, and staff the great bureaucracy being created by.;,the...
...More disturbing, the governmentís response has been to work out elaborate regulatory compromises and to create agencies filled with people who have great resumes-in other words, to assume bureaucratic solutions will work when entrepreneurial ones are clearly needed...
...Talking to business students yields the news that the most prestigious career is in management or financial consulting...
...Dealing with people...
...In Americaís top business schools, which produce the shepherds of the economy, thereís an informal hierarchy of prestige that the students apply to the various parts of the business world that they might enter upon graduation...
...Richard M. Mulvr...
...It was translated into more than 40 language...
...It was through institutions of their own creation that the members of Rooseveltís Cabinet rose to prominence...
...None of the Cabinet members owe any of their success to positions passed on to them by their parents, and their stories are heartening proof that the dizzy pinnacles of our society really are open to the meritorious...
...life: ďNever having worked for a boss before...
...production, considered the province of sweaty engineers, brings up the rear...
...instead, his aim was to glorify the can-do spirit that made carrying the message to Garcia possible, to complain aboxit its scarcity in modern America, and to point out that it is the key to success...
...Because we're a nation in which success is supposed to be open to everyone, advice on how to achieve ii has always been zealously sought !:>y the American people...
...Itís striking how many of todayís institutions date from the Theodore Roosevelt era, and how central energy was to the system created then...
...The first Treasury Secretary Roosevelt appointed, Leslie M. Shaw, founded a successful bank and mortgage loan business in Iowa...
...at the bottom is basic industry...
...It isnít behavior can in turn be blamed on that Young is a bad man, Rusk said...
...James Wilson, the Secretary of Agriculture, started his own farm...
...Ray Marshall was raised in a B a p t i s t o r p h a n age...
...There was a Treasury Secretary who left school at 14, an Attorney General who hadnít gone to law school, and nobody with anywhere near a Ph.D...
...how people now define their one has to understand that he is aspirations, on what they want to do laboring under a severe handicap in with their lives...
...he wrote, "is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you are a business man...
...itís much easier to agree on who is successful and who is not...
...Thinking about the nature of success may seem like an exercise in abstraction, but a change in that thinking can meet our most concrete needs...
...The government example comes from Dean Rusk, a poor Georgia boy who made his way up through a series of ever more prestigious university, foundation, and government jobs...
...Most of them went to state schools, and a few to more obscure places: Marshall to Millsaps in Mississippi and Kreps to Berea in Kentucky...
...a smile and a winning way had become, by Carnegie's time ' the undisputed way to the top...
...What first brought them up in the world was education...
...ation of a U.S...
...Playing life to an audience of potential employers, with all that implies,, is seen today as an absolute precondition of success...
...In the intervening 75 years, the great organizations that were founded in Rooseveltís day haye grown, prospered, and come to dominate our national life, so that now the energies of ambitious people are channeled through them...
...How to do better at the substance of your job...
...When those organization men rise to the top, they shape the society according to their own conditioning...

Vol. 9 • July 1977 • No. 5


 
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