William James described success as a combination of two things. An inner ideal which is followed persistently with courage and Outer achievement related to that ideal.
Here we introduce the nation's first great communications monopolist, whose reign provides history's first lesson in the power and peril of concentrated control over the flow of information. Western Union's man was one Rutherford B. Hates, an obscure Ohio politician described by a contemporary journalist as "a third rate nonentity." But the firm and its partner newswire, the Associated Press, wanted Hayes in office, for several reasons. Hayes was a close friend of William Henry Smith, a former politician who was now the key political operator at the Associated Press. More generally, since the Civil War, the Republican Party and the telegraph industry had enjoyed a special relationship, in part because much of what were eventually Western Union's lines were built by the Union Army.So making Hayes president was the goal, but how was the telegram in Reid's hand key to achieving it?The media and communications industries are regularly accused of trying to influence politics, but what went on in the 1870s was of a wholly different order from anything we could imagine today. At the time, Western Union was the exclusive owner of the nationwide telegraph network, and the sizable Associated Press was the unique source for "instant" national or European news. (It's later competitor, the United Press, which would be founded on the U.S. Post Office's new telegraph lines, did not yet exist.) The Associated Press took advantage of its economies of scale to produce millions of lines of copy a year and, apart from local news, its product was the mainstay of many American newspapers.With the common law notion of "common carriage" deemed inapplicable, and the latter day concept of "net neutrality" not yet imagined, Western Union carried Associated Press reports exclusively. Working closely with the Republican Party and avowedly Republican papers like The New York Times (the ideal of an unbiased press would not be established for some time, and the minting of the Time's liberal bona fides would take longer still), they did what they could to throw the election to Hayes. It was easy: the AP ran story after story about what an honest man Hayes was, what a good governor he had been, or just whatever he happened to be doing that day. It omitted any scandals related to Hayes, and it declined to run positive stories about his rivals (James Blaine in the primary, Samuel Tilden in the general). But beyond routine favoritism, late that Election Day Western Union offered the Hayes campaign a secret weapon that would come to light only much later.Hayes, far from being the front-runner, had gained the Republican nomination only on the seventh ballot. But as the polls closed his persistence appeared a waste of time, for Tilden, the Democrat, held a clear advantage in the popular vote (by a margin of over 250,000) and seemed headed for victory according to most early returns; by some accounts Hayes privately conceded defeat. But late that night, Reid, the New York Times editor, alerted the Republican Party that the Democrats, despite extensive intimidation of Republican supporters, remained unsure of their victory in the South. The GOP sent some telegrams of its own to the Republican governors in the South with special instructions for manipulating state electoral commissions. As a result the Hayes campaign abruptly claimed victory, resulting in an electoral dispute that would make Bush v. Gore seem a garden party. After a few brutal months, the Democrats relented, allowing Hayes the presidency — in exchange, most historians believe, for the removal of federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.The full history of the 1876 election is complex, and the power of th
The Delusion of Lasting Success promises that building an enduring company is not only achievable but a worthwhile objective. Yet companies that have outperformed the market for long periods of time are not just rare, they are statistical artifacts that are observable only in retrospect. Companies that achieved lasting success may be best understood as having strung together many short-term successes. Pursuing a dream of enduring greatness may divert attention from the pressing need to win immediate battles. The Delusion of Absolute Performance diverts our attention from the fact that success and failure always take place in a competitive environment. It may be comforting to believe that our success is entirely up to us, but as the example of Kmart demonstrated, a company can improve in absolute terms and still fall further behind in relative terms. Success in business means doing things better than rivals, not just doing things well. Believing that performance is absolute can cause us to take our eye off rivals and to avoid decisions that, while risky, may be essential for survival given the particular context of our industry and its competitive dynamics. The Delusion of the Wrong End of the Stick lets us confuse causes and effects, actions and outcomes. We may look at a handful of extraordinarily successful companies and imagine that doing what they did can lead to success — when it might in fact lead mainly to higher volatility and a lower overall chance of success. Unless we start with the full population of companies and examine what they all did — and how they all fared — we have an incomplete and indeed biased set of information.The Delusion of Organizational Physics implies that the business world offers predictable results, that it conforms to precise laws. It fuels a belief that a given set of actions can work in all settings and ignores the need to adapt to different conditions: intensity of competition, rate of growth, size of competitors, market concentration, regulation, global dispersion of activities, and much more. Claiming that one approach can work everywhere, at all times, for all companies, has a simplistic appeal but doesn’t do justice to the complexities of business.These points, taken together, expose the principal fiction at the heart of so many business books — that a company can choose to be great, that following a few key steps will predictably lead to greatness, that its success is entirely of its own making and not dependent on factors outside its control.
William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was: "A smell of petroleum prevails throughout.