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Andrew Summers Rowan and General Garcia

Andrews Summers Rowan in the center, General Calixto García on the right.

I stumbled across an amazing story, A Message to Garcia, about 6 months ago, which sums up what we all should strive to be and should look for when hiring people.  This book is in the public domain, and I am including copies at the end of this review, based on the Project Gutenberg texts.

The book, which is really more of an essay, was written by Elbert Hubbard, an American writer and philosopher who was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He wrote this story shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War, based on the actions of Andrew Summers Rowan.  During the war, Rowan was asked by his general to deliver a message from President McKinley to General Calixto García, leader of the Cuban resistance, who was hidden in the mountains in an unknown location.  Not asking how he was going to accomplish such a task, he took the message from his general, and without a word he set off and successfully delivered the message to Garcia.

The essay extols the virtues of Rowan as a desirable trait for all people.  Here is the crux of Hubbard’s message, as I see it:

The world needs people who can take a task and complete it, without question, complaint, or fuss.

Many of us are that person.  As managers, these are the person we want working on our teams.  As entrepreneurs, these are definitely the people we want for our startups.  Hubbard describes those who cannot take or follow through on orders as morally deformed or crippled.  He sympathisizes with the hard working person, who does their job without complaint, without stupid questions.  To quote Hubbard:

“His kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village—in every office, shop, store and factory.”

I am not going to try an analyze the book from head to tail here, because I would do an injustice to it.  The one thing that strikes me is that this book could have been written yesterday.  I believe it is as important a book as any I have read in years and should be required reading for every child, high school student, college student, worker, soldier, and citizen.  It is short enough to read in a few minutes and I very highly recommend it.  You can download or read the book here:

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I am forming an opinion lately that books do not need to be long, but rather short.  This was first brought to my attention while reading Seth Godin’s “The Dip”.  There are too many non-fiction books that have filler, because apparently some publishers charge for books by the pound.  There may be a prevailing thought that a short book does not carry as much perceived value as a long, large, heavy one.  This is why we end up abandoning books before finishing them, unless the content is very compelling.

I believe books need to be shorter, not longer.  I think that takes a great deal of time and thought to write a shorter book than it does a longer book.  To quote Cicero (also attributed to Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, and others):

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

To quote my wife:

“Land the plane.”

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