One of the blogs that I follow pretty regularly is written by Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. Tim is a wildly interesting guy who has turned be interesting (and interested) into a pretty amazing business. His blog is thought provoking and inspiring–I always leave his posts with something to think about.
Recently, he wrote a post where he shared his answer to the over-used and sometimes abused interview question: If you could have dinner with any person in history, who would it be? His answer is really intriguing and it got me thinking. Slowing down once in a while to ponder a question like this is good for the brain. It fires up neurons that we might not be using often. So, I started pondering the same question with the intent of writing this post.
It was a much more challenging question that what I originally thought it would be. If you exclude family members, then this question really makes you think (if you take it seriously). I think that this question is interesting because, like any question, your answer and your process for answering it tells you a lot about yourself.
Personally, I started by making a mental list of people whose accomplishments I admired. Then, I thought about who I might learn the most from. And finally, I thought about who would be an engaging person to have a conversation with. The combination of these criteria made it tough to find an answer that was authentic for me and would be satisfying for someone reading this. The rejected candidates on my list were Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther King, Jr., Peter Drucker, and John Adams–all for very different reasons.
Ultimately, my choice is Andrew Carnegie. I am not a scholar of Carnegie, but from what I’ve read about him, his story is incredibly inspiring. He began his career as a blue collar worker who earned his way up the ranks and then became an entrepreneur, one of the most successful in history based on his financial success. But, the two parts of his story that are most inspiring to me are his management innovation and philanthropy. Carnegie, in my opinion, is one of the most important management innovators in history. He paid close attention to how the railroads were operated while he worked there and ultimately took some lessons he learned from that experience and applied it to the Steel company he was growing. If you study the history of today’s management practices that define our current organizations, many of them originated with Carnegie over a century ago. His legacy is all around you.
He was a revolutionary and a pioneer in business (both things I deeply admire), and he reaped great rewards for taking those risks. But, what then sets him apart for me is what he did with his money. Long before it was trendy to do so, Carnegie eventually gave away a majority of his fortune to philanthropic causes aimed at improving the world. He donated large amounts of money to build libraries, schools and universities–investments that we still benefit from today.
So, if I could chose any person in history to have dinner with who is not a member of my family, I’d chose Andrew Carnegie. Who would you chose?