8 Lifehacking lessons from the richest man ever
$350 Billion (with a capital B) was the inflation-adjusted personal net worth of John D. Rockefeller.
He was history’s wealthiest man, by a long shot, if you consider the wealthiest individuals of our lifetime…
These individuals are mere paupers in comparison. John D’s titanic wealth was matched only by his altruism. So much of his wealth was given away to organizations that have made a sustainable positive impact on the world that it would not be unreasonable to say that virtually every person alive today benefits in one way or another from his altruism. Was John D. a lifehacker? Absolutely.
This article is a distillation of lifehacks Rockefeller employed, as detailed in Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, the +800 page exhaustively authoritative biography of his life, times, and tactics.
Here’s what Rockefeller had to say about the importance of mental compartmentalization and getting places in life:
“Do not many of us who fail to achieve big things . . . fail because we lack concentration — the art of concentrating the mind on the thing to be done at the proper time and to the exclusion of everything else?”
Example of compartmentalization of mindset: One of the biggest challenges John faced in business was when the United States government ruled to break up his massive business empire. John was playing a game of golf with friends when a messenger delivered to John a telegraph with the news that his company was going to be fined many millions of dollars and subject to anti-trust laws. He looks at it briefly and then said to his golf buddies: “Shall we continue [the game]?”
His golf buddies knew what was going on with the court cases and insisted on a response from Rockefeller about what was going on with the court case. Rockefeller’s response: “It was the maximum amount possible, but I’ll be in hell before they ever get that money.”
By the numbers
John carried on an intense lifelong love affair with numbers. If his titanic success can be attributed to one business quality it was his accounting skills and commitment to running his business by the numbers. In fact, Rockefeller himself said:
“I charted my course by figures, nothing but figures.”
Usage of memory systems
No surprise here, Rockefeller had a monster of a memory. He remembered, at any given time, the names of up to 3000 of his company’s employees. Rockefeller, no doubt, used something like the AV Association Technique and would have read The Memory Book.
The Memory Book [Book Review]
I first read this book about 10 years ago, when I found it on my parent's bookshelves in high school. I was fascinated…
Preempting responses with body language
Most people approach interactions, especially confrontations, highly concerned with being heard and understood. As a result, we over-communicate, and we use many more words than are needed to make our point. Rockefeller often preferred to communicate first with his body language, then with his words.
Example: One man told John he had bought oil barrels at a great price of 44 cents a barrel, and he asked: “John, what do you think I should sell them for?” John turned to the man and stared at him silently, leaned forward, crossed his legs, put his elbow on his knee and his hand under his chin, and continued to stare for a few more seconds (the man grew very nervous and restless). Then John sat back, uncrossed his legs, and looked away to continue his prior conversation. The man who asked the question started squirming, became uncomfortable, and had the gall to ask again, “John, so what would you do?” John (who was well-known for having sharp, piercing eyes) turned slowly and calmly replied, “I would do what I thought best.”
A good friend of John’s, who spent a lot of time with him said of his adherence to a daily schedule:
“something bordering on the superhuman, perhaps the inhuman-in this unbroken, mathematically perfect schedule. It was uncanny.”
Rockefeller’s daily schedule:
- Rising at 6 AM, he read the newspaper for an hour, then strolled through the house and garden from 7 to 8, giving a dime to each new employee and a nickel to each veteran.
- He then breakfasted at 8, followed at 8:45 by a game of Numerica (a puzzle game), which gave him time to digest his food properly (he was strict about relaxing after eating to let his food digest — that’s a biohack for sure!).
- From 9:15 to 10:15 he worked on his correspondence, mostly devoted to his philanthropy and investments. (As many as 2,000 letters arrived daily at his home, most of them solicitations for money.)
- From 10:15 to 12 he golfed, and from 12:15 to 1 PM he bathed and then rested.
- Then came lunch and another round of Numerica from 1 to 2:30.
- From 2:30 to 3 he reclined on the sofa and had mail read to him; from 3:15 to 5:15 he motored, from 5:30 to 6:30 he again rested,
- 7 to 9 was given over to a formal dinner, followed by more rounds of Numerica.
- From 9 to 10 he listened to music and chatted with guests, then slept from 10:30 PM to 6 AM.
He refused to deviate from this routine by one bit, even when the weather was a challenge.
Playing brain games
As you can see John spent a serious amount of time playing Numerica, a quintessential brain game. It consists of a grid of numbers that must be organized.
Want to work out your brain the same way John D. Rockefeller did? Download Numerica for your iPad or Android. If it would have existed in his day, John D would, no doubt, have been a major fan of Dual N-Back software training…
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Rockefeller’s stock market investing strategy
John’s general sentiment was “Avoid Wall Street, it’s corrupt.” However, he dabbled quite profitably in stock investments. His strategy was scary simple: Every day one of his assistants would bring him a list of stocks. When a stock went down 1/8th of its trading price he would buy it. When it went up 1/8th from where he bought it he would sell it. A completely unemotional trading strategy.
Rockefeller on fashion
Many entrepreneurs prioritize fashion and clothing very low, but not Rockefeller; at work, he was always dressed immaculately in a nice suit with an umbrella, gloves, and silk hat. He also thought that nicely polished shoes were very important to maintain.
Want to learn more about Rockefeller?
Check out the excellent historical TV series The Men Who Built America or download The Jam-Packed Success Profile Summary Of John D. Rockefeller’s Life, a 35-page PDF35-page PDF written by Dane Maxwell.