Ideas and stories from my growth journey. Warning: If you are interested in a casual, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.

Cautiously Aggressive: Learning From John D Rockefeller

I recently read the biography of John D Rockefeller, who grew up dirt floor poor just before the American Civil War (born 1839), founded Standard Oil Company, created one of the first major monopolies, and ended up one of the wealthiest men in the world.

It was well written, full of quirky characters and surprising strategies. I recommend it: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Rockefeller was a complicated man. On more than one occasion, when a small town general store wouldn’t agree to sell only Standard Oil kerosene, he authorized the opening of another general store across the street that sold everything at cost, making no profit until the other store went out of business. Then he raised rates back to normal and this new store only sold his brand of kerosene. It was not illegal, but it wasn’t very nice either. This, and many more clever, nasty things he did to grow his business.

Book Cover Titan John D Rockefeller

But before you write him off as a total jerk, you should know he was a tender, faithful family man and was also one of the greatest philanthropists of his time. But he hid his personal life including his giving, keeping the press away with walls and guards. So all the stories in his time were lopsided, written by his enemies. One example among literally hundreds of epic gifts: he gave the money enabling the founding of many of the traditionally black colleges and universities in America but asked them to name them after other people.

Some of what I saw showed me what not to do. But some of what he did inspired me, too. One example among many: Rockefeller’s life revealed that I held to a false competition between being aggressive and being cautious. I thought that being cautious meant moving slowly (among other things) and being aggressive meant moving quickly. But he showed that by paying attention to all the details and having plans to handle problems, he could move very quickly and do so with great caution. You can be aggressive and cautious at the same time. It just requires more effort. Tweet This

It’s easier to be cautious when you move slowly. And it’s easier to move quickly if you don’t check all the details. But if you’re willing to do the hard work, you can do both. You don’t have to choose between aggressive and cautious. It turns out the real choice is between working hard and taking it easy. And that’s a choice I made a long time ago.

Scott WozniakCautiously Aggressive: Learning From John D Rockefeller
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