Business Leaders: Napoleon Hill

Growing Business looks at the man behind the most well-researched book on the origins of success and his 13 steps to achieving it

Name: Napoleon Hill
Born: 1883
Expertise: Author, journalist, lawyer and lecturer on self-empowerment and success, Napoleon Hill was also an active entrepreneur, magazine publisher and adviser to President Roosevelt
Known for: ‘What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve’
Best-known titles: The Law of Success (1928); Think and Grow Rich (1937); Napoleon Hill’s Keys to Success: The 17 Principles of Personal Achievement; Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (1960)

Who is Napoleon Hill?

Napoleon Hill is arguably the great grandfather of all modern business and self-help books. In 1908, the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie challenged a young Napoleon Hill to compile a ‘philosophy for successes’. He introduced Hill to his prominent peers for interviews (amongst others Henry Ford) but extended no payment, citing the opportunity as reward enough. Hill had already experienced some business success running a mine and working in sales at a lumber yard, before losing it all in the stock market crash of 1907. A tenacious young man, he recognised the value of the opportunity immediately and began a challenging personal journey, supporting his family while seeking to achieve his goal.

Most of Hill’s life was dedicated to discovering the human qualities which enable one person to achieve success where another might fail. Despite significant setbacks, he pursued his goal in an exhaustive manner until he found the answers. He published numerous works, each communicating this revolutionary philosophy for success with ever greater clarity.

What is Hill known for?

The Law of Success was published in 1928, weighing in at a hefty 1,500 pages in eight volumes. For the next decade Hill lectured, ran a business magazine, lost all his wealth (again) got divorced and worked for President Roosevelt as an adviser and speech writer.

In 1937 Hill released (after the late addition of a chapter called ‘The Mystery of Sexual Transmutation’) a new, streamlined version of The Law of Success. Think and Grow Rich: Teaching was, for the first time, the famous Andrew Carnegie formula for money-making, based upon the 13 proven steps to riches (its original full title) was an instant success, selling out the initial 5,000 print run in under three weeks.

Think and Grow Rich is probably the most well-researched book in history on the origins of success. It is based on the analysis of 500 interviews with America’s most successful people and was 25 years in the making. Hill published a further eight books, alongside some audio and film recordings.

The concepts

The core message of Hill’s work is that putting his 13 principles of success into action toward a definiteness of purpose, in concert with genuine belief in your ability to achieve it, will enable you to be successful in life. These principles are supported by anecdotes explaining the root of the principles and demonstrating them in action with real-world examples.

The 13 principles are as follows.

1. Desire. You have to have a real desire for success, in order to achieve it. Hill explains that this is the only starting point from which your road to riches – monetary or otherwise – can be built. ‘Wishing’ for something is not enough, it must be a true desire which becomes an obsession, which is combined with planning of definite ways and means to acquire riches and backed by a persistence which does not recognize failure.

In the remaining 12 steps, Hill explains how your desire is then used to fuel the practical process of achieving your goals.

2. Faith. Hill argues this can only be achieved by the practical application of all 13 principles, because it is a state of mind which develops voluntarily. All you can do is feed your subconscious the right ingredients through affirmative actions. Faith is induced by auto-suggestion, through repetition of thought. If you lack self-confidence to apply this he provides a practical formula to achieve it based on a daily repetition of your definiteness of purpose, concentration on your future self while eradicating negative thought or action toward others, because such negativity in others will never bring success to you.

3. Auto-suggestion. Also described as self-suggestion, this is the repeating of your desire to yourself every morning and evening, in order to program it into your subconscious mind.

4. Specialised knowledge. Specific knowledge harvested from any sources in order to achieve your purpose. Hill argues that it is not the specialist knowledge which is hard to find, but that the skill is in translating that knowledge into practical plans to achieve success. To do that you require imagination.

5. Imagination. This is described as coming in two forms: (a) synthetic imagination – this fashions old or existing concepts, knowledge and ideas into new combinations; (b) creative imagination – this is where hunches and inspirations come from. Hill says we must give life and action to ideas, which then harbour power of their own and live beyond our physical form when we die.

6. Organised planning. A clear and concise plan to turn your desire into positive action. In one of the most involved chapters, Hill diverges deeply into the building blocks to make it happen. The advice ranges from creating your ‘mastermind alliance’ (a group of people to have around you who are smart, positive, supportive and successful), the sectors of society where new leadership will be required in future, how to get a job, how to write a brief, marketing, the QQS rating of your service (quality, quantity and spirit) and 30 major causes of failure. Organized planning is treated as a pseudonym for leadership. Hill lists major attributes of successful leadership, and identifies causes of leadership failure.

7. Decision. In a study of 25,000 men and women who had experienced failure, Hill says indecision was at the top of the 30 causes of failure. Hill argues that the art of making a decision is so critical to life that it should be taught in schools or colleges. He says decision almost always requires courage. Without definiteness of decision, your plans, however good, cannot be actioned.

8. Persistence. You must persist without exception. Hill rates persistence second only to desire in importance to achieve your definite major purpose. This is because desire directly impacts the strength of your resolve: your persistence. If you ever feel yourself losing your persistence, he argues, you need to light a greater fire under your desire. Persistence is a state of mind, thus we have control over it and must feed it appropriately with a desire allied with a definite major purpose.

9. Power of the mastermind. You will never know everything and so you should find a group of positive, successful people whom you can spend time with to help spark new ideas and reinforce your resolve. By spending time with them some of their success and positive mental attitude will rub off on you.

10. The mystery of sex transmutation. Sex is the strongest of all human desires. Transmutation is the ability to channel the energy of this desire for sex into other, productive activities.

11. The subconscious mind. You cannot control your subconscious mind, but only feed it with a larger amount of positive rather than negative thoughts and experiences (auto-suggestion or self-suggestion). The conscious mind consumes everything you experience and therefore you have to make a conscious choice to be positive. The subconscious mind can only render back what you put in to it and you have no control over that process, other than to contribute in a positive way to what it is fed through active positive thought and seeking environments and people who provide positive experiences.

12. The brain. In the human brain the ‘creative-imagination’ is the receiving station of the mind and the ‘subconscious mind’ the sender. By actively engaging in all 13 principles, you will be communicating with the universal intelligence of the ether.

13. The sixth sense. The conduit between the mind and infinite intelligence; it is a combination of the spiritual and physical. Hill argues that only through practising all 12 other principles – and over a prolonged period – will you be able to really appreciate and experience fully the power of your sixth sense, as many great leaders have done in the past.

How real companies use Hill’s concepts

Many great leaders across the spectrum of success, from senior politicians to business chiefs, can be identified as having applied one or a few of Hill’s 13 principles to great effect. A burning desire to succeed is usually a prerequisite for any successful person, but very few leaders or organisations have been consistent in applying all of Hill’s ‘major attributes of successful leadership’.

Richard Branson and his Virgin empire is largely perceived as a do-gooding under-dog, thanks largely to Branson’s own cultivation of that image. Virgin does have many projects which impact on the world positively and their customer service is better than many – but Richard’s own extravagant self-promotion has at times alienated both customers and even his employees.

The Nordstrom chain of stores (started in 1901, before Hill started his masterwork) has even today a reputation for ‘going the extra mile’, a cornerstone of Hill’s works. The decision to ‘go the extra mile’ for a customer, friend or colleague encompasses many of the facets outlined in the 13 principles.

Business has attempted to embrace some of the principles Hill promotes but few, if any at all, have actively and consistently deployed them all. As modern consumers become further educated and globalization continues to extend the privilege of choice across ever wider markets in the new knowledge economy, business and its leadership will be forced, out of economic necessity, to embrace many of Hill’s principles – including those more esoteric practices – not only to better perform operationally but to be the acceptable or preferred choice of their customer base.

Validity today

Hill’s legacy is hard to overestimate. In one form or another Think and Grow Rich has been in print ever since it was published in 1937 (excluding the paper rationing period of World War II). Today, the work has been re-published in hundreds of languages, abridged and repackaged. It remains highly respected, and although many of the supporting anecdotes in the book reference companies and people long dead, they support the theories adequately. In some reworked versions of the text these older examples have been replaced with more up-to-date studies. Think and Grow Rich remains the bestselling of Hill’s books. Business Week magazine ranked Think and Grow Rich as the sixth bestselling paperback business book, 70 years after it was first published!

Hill taught that the strength of your conviction that you will reach your goal is directly proportionate to your ability to attract the people and situations which will lend help to your cause. For the first time he boldly and precisely articulated to a mass audience the connection between the practical actions needed to make money or create success, and the spiritual beliefs and psychological conditioning of the individual.

The longevity of his work pays tribute to a lifetime of interviews and research, as a writer who genuinely tried to practice what he preached and often succeeded.

Business Gurus, edited by Ian Wallis and published by Crimson Publishing, is available to order now.

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