Skip to main content
managing books

Everything I Know About Success I Learned From Napoleon Hill

By Don M. Green

(McGraw-Hill, 240 pages, $22.95)

At the start of his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill declared that "thoughts are things." His personal-success books are still best-sellers and that idea about the power of thoughts is still current, as we grapple with how to be successful.

"The first step to success takes place in your thought process, and the way we use it is extremely important for our success," Don Green, executive director of the Virginia-based Napoleon Hill Foundation writes in his own book, Everything I Know About Success I Learned From Napoleon Hill.

"Thoughts truly are things, but it is important that the thought process concentrates on a purpose that will supply a human want and at the same time be something for which you have a deep passion."

You must be wary, however, of thoughts that lead you astray. Often we believe that the grass is greener on the other side: If you could change your surroundings, you will be successful. Not so, says Mr. Green, because true success only comes from within.

This means believing in yourself, and deciding what is the most important thing you desire in your future. "Always remember that you can be bold with your desires because the only limits are those that you place on your mind. You should see what you desire, learn to visualize it, believe in it, and develop plans to achieve it," Mr. Green writes.

If this sounds new-agey, you might be interested in the quote he shares from an ancient philosopher, Aristotle: "It is impossible even to think without a mental picture."

Napoleon Hill, one of the pioneering authors in the personal-success genre, wrote that "faith is a state of mind that may be described as an intensified form of self-reliance." Faith in yourself – belief in yourself – is therefore a necessity for success. Mr. Green suggests that the statement "I will believe it when I see it" should actually be, "I will see it when I believe it."

Again he goes back in time, in this case to the New Testament, Hebrew 11:1, where it is written: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." So things that you desire can become reality. If you have faith, what you begin to see or visualize can become real.

"Faith is to believe to be true that which has not yet materialized," he argues. "Visualization of your objective and faith that you can realize it will prompt you to make plans and take the necessary action to bring your goals to reality."

Goals are vital. Mr. Green says people who are goal oriented are much more likely to be successful. But he passes on a warning about proper goal setting from Michelangelo: "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."

Mr. Green shares his system for goal setting, which involves spending some quiet time near the end of each year with a legal pad and paper, thinking. He writes down what he would like to accomplish in the coming year, in three years, five years, and 10 years. He usually lists a lot of things, but then pares them back to the most important items. Next, he lists each goal on a 3-inch by 5-inch index card, which he carries in his inside coat pocket.

For the past 30 years, his practice has been to review those cards several times a day. On each viewing, he asks himself whether what he is doing at that moment or planning to do will move him closer to his goal. "Don't be afraid to set big goals; it costs no more than setting small goals," he exhorts.

With your goals in mind, he urges you to reach out to those whose expertise you need. As well, maintain a positive mental attitude. Perseverance will also be crucial, along with helpful habits. He advises that the earlier you form habits, the more likely it is they will remain with you. "Each new habit will get easier each time that you take action. The more often you repeat a habit, the firmer it will be, and you will be less apt to stray from it," he writes.

But all these success factors may get you nowhere if you don't learn the habit of frugality. Each time your income increases, without frugality the new influx of money will quickly disappear. He warns: "It is easy to tell yourself, 'Someday, when I make more money, I will have some money to save.' The problem with that thinking is that 'someday' is not part of the calendar. It is a polite way of lying to yourself to get yourself off the hook."

His book outlines a simple series of common principles for success. Nothing new here particularly, and the rat-a-tat style with its frequent repetitions can be annoying.

But at the same time, there's nothing wrong with the folk wisdom he offers and, like those cards he checks every day, the book may be a useful reminder for success.

Post Script

In The End of Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Review Press, 204 pages, $34,50) Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath argues that strategy must be reconfigured so organizations capture opportunities quickly, exploit them decisively, and move on before those opportunities are exhausted.

Training consultant Rob Jolles shows how to influence others without manipulation in How to Change Minds (Berrett-Koehler, 188 pages, $19.95).

In The Clarity Principle (Jossey-Bass, 227 pages, $33.95), consultant Chatham Sullivan highlights the importance for leaders of establishing clarity when setting strategy.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe