Most men that have been married three times, had numerous fall outs with their business partners, told wild stories about their background and upbringing would hardly be known for being a role model and person to follow. Yet, Napoleon Hill, the author of such classics as “Think and Grow Rich” and “The 16 Laws Of Success” is one such man.
His first two wives couldn’t stand him. His children abandoned him. And yet, he is held up by many as the inspiration for their lives. The famous John Maxwell holds him up as one of the must read authors to inspire your life. Hill gave such insight as insisting that you could clean up headaches with a good enema, and his book uses autobiographical examples that are obviously exaggerated to a massive degree to make himself look good. Finally, his announcement that science was ready to prove telepathy is laughable at best. I enjoyed his contention that men went bald because, “Heads become bald because of the protection of hats with tight fitting bands which cut off the circulation at the roots of the hair.”
Ignoring some of the crazy thoughts, Hill’s life only goes to show that those that often have the most insight are the last to apply it fully to their own lives. So with such a spotted pedigree you might think that I would steer you away from his writings. However, a good read of his “Laws of Success in 16 Lessons” is worth the read. Hill, in an almost unstoppable flow of words and examples, calls to principles that are clear inside of each of us. He truly is an amazing example of “do what I say, don’t do how I act.”
A man with a slightly less spotted background is Ben Franklin, and in many ways, you can see Hill as a follower of Franklin. The thought of his philosophy is to turn the telescope inward and start to ask yourself what you need in your own life to be successful. While Hill may have externally lied to other people about his own success, he has a amazing amount of insight into what a person should do to be successful.
Hill wrote two main books that he is known for:
1. The Laws Of Success in 16 lessons
2. Think and Grow Rich
One of the more positive people I know had been spouting off about Hill. I knew a little of his background so I had never placed him high on my reading list. Yet to make myself more able to relate to my friend, I decided to read his writings. I had a choice to make, and knowing that “Think and Grow Rich” had more of a spiritual overtone, I decided to focus on the Laws of Success. As I read more about Hill, I would suggest the same. Most of his followers like Think and Grow Rich more because of the spiritual overtones. However, as a Christian, I didn’t need more “word of faith” writings.
The Laws of Success may have some spiritual overtones but they are pretty straightforward. In a list of things that Hill looks at, the subjects are listed below
1) The Law of the Mastermind
2) A Definite Chief Aim
4) Habit of Saving
5) Initiative and Leadership
9) Doing More than Paid For
10) A Pleasing Personality
11) Accurate Thinking
14) Profiting by Failure
16) The Golden Rule
As I read through his work, I found that he had stumbled across a practical application of learned optimism and idea such as flow, while giving them different names and root causes. From a practical standpoint, other than being a little eccentric and wild, I could hardly think of a better source of practical thought that would find support in practical psychology.
He also has a variety of practical advise for how to navigate business relationships such as the well standing principle of trying to find win/win situations, although he doesn’t call it as such. He simply writes, “I said that my plan was founded upon equity; that it contemplated a benefit to all parties concerned."
So, while this blog post is not an exhaustive dissection of Hill’s writings, it might be worth it to discuss a few of his key principles, ones to apply to our own lives
Probably one of my favorite ideas of his is “Accurate Thinking” and “Profiting by Failure.” Both of these together can be combined to the modern thought of learned optimism and flow.
Hill writes the following:
"Ask the next ten people whom you meet why they have not accomplished more in their respective lines of endeavor, and at least nine of them will tell you that opportunity does not seem to come around their way. Go a step further and analyze each of these nine accurately by observing their actions for one single day, and the chances are that you will find that every one of them is turning away the finest sort of opportunities every hour of the day"
I have written on Learned Optimism before, and this is the core of the thought. In other words, you find what you look for. If you are looking for opportunity, you have a much better chance of success. You could have this modern concept that is critical for you life captured in his writing for almost 100 years
In addition, Hill even captures much of the modern thought on behavior economics with such words of advise such as
No one has any right to form an opinion that is not based either upon that which he believes to be facts, or upon a reasonable hypothesis; yet, if you will observe yourself carefully, you will catch yourself forming opinions on nothing more substantial than your desire for a thing to be or not to be"
Again, this is well known as confirmation bias. Now literature and philosophy has always captured these types of thinking, but most of the time these observations are scattered. Hill, in the roaring 20s, was sticking these types of thoughts together to help his readers in a very few pages. Once written and thought about, these principles are very obvious, and helps the individual live a better life.
So before we leave this thread for today, lets talk about a couple more of his thoughts that I find worthwhile. He points out that having multiple people working together on finding an answer is powerful. He calls this his Mastermind. It is when multiple people work together for a common cause, which causes everybody to do better. We might simply call this teamwork. While you might not want to go out and run by yourself, you’ll find yourself running harder with a dedicated group of runners. Hill claims that this is because of telepathy, which does not exist. However, there may well be some mirror neurons involved. This made me think about how important it is to have a team that you can hang out with and push yourself to be better. But more than this, Hill delusion of “we have telepathy” might actually make the team better. If you could talk yourself into the idea that the team has real magic in the individuals, I believe that we would find that we have better team performance. Often if you think you are magical, you might be more magical.
The other principle he speaks about is having a chief aim. You need to find something in this life that you really care about. If you can truly find this, then you will work hard to get it. As we know from our looks as deliberate practice, one of the critical aspects is having the willingness to work hard at a skill to get better. Hill points out the simply idea that until you figure out what is you real desire, you’ll never work hard enough to try and get it.
Finally, he has some great words about tolerance and forgiveness. While this is spoken in the Bible, Hill does bring his own slant to things. He certainly was not doing all that he preached, but listening to him preach still will influence you.
The book is free for download and a tremendous example of practical ideas of how to make your life and the lives around you much better.
If this isn’t success, then what is?