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Business Book Club: Think and Grow Rich

I've set myself a goal to read one self-development book per month. To make sure I really reflect on what I'm reading I'm going to extract the wisdom from the best business and personal development books and share it with you.

This time, I’ve been reading the classic Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

The Book

As someone who reads a lot of business books, I was looking forward to going straight to the source of many of the ideas used in modern publications and read a self-improvement classic. Think and Grow Rich is a primary text for the self-improvement genre. This best selling classic was published in 1937. The premise of the book is that author Napoleon Hill interviewed 500 of the most successful men (including Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison) and distilled their secrets into the 13 principles described in the book. For added excitement, Hill claims there is a hidden secret in the book which will reveal itself to you when you are ready to be rich.

Napoleon Hill cover.png

What did I learn?

As Hill distilled his discoveries down into 13 principles, it makes sense to describe each of them here.

1. Desire

Quite rightly, Hill starts here. I think of a lot of people overlook this but before you pursue riches (which Hill says can be any goal you choose not just money) you need to focus on the strength of your desire. What is required is a deep burning desire for something that will automatically drive the actions that will bring results. Desire is what provides the motivation to pursue your goal. A lot of people daydream about having more in their lives, but Hill highlights the importance of having a burning desire that outweighs any fear of failure. Only this will provide sufficient motivation to be successful. Even today, I discuss this with coaching clients, although I use the term knowing your ‘why’.

2. Faith

This is the first point at which the book a bit ‘new agey’. Hill uses the term ‘infinite intelligence’ a lot in the book and at times I’m not sure if he is explicitly referring the idea of The Secret or not. With regards to faith, he says that you must really believe that you will get what you want because your beliefs shape your outcomes. If you don’t think you deserve something, you will act accordingly and this behaviour will sabotage your results. I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with this but not for the reason Hill gives in the book. Rather than crediting some new age concept like ‘infinite intelligence’ or ‘the universe’ I would personally suggest that your beliefs influence your reticular activating system. Whichever explanation you prefer, the old adage of whether you think you can or if you think you can’t you are probably right, rings true.

3. Autosuggestion

I honestly thought autosuggestion was a relatively modern thing until I read this book. Hills description of how to influence your unconscious mind echoes work done in the 1960s which was being hailed as new thinking at the time. This is all about your self-talk. Hill suggests three steps to changing your inner dialogue.

1. Write yourself an affirmation describing what you want. Make the language emotional rather than just factual and paint a clear picture of what you want in your mind, as the unconscious mind does not respond as well to literal instructions.

2. Repeat this affirmation daily, morning and night.

3. Place a written copy of this affirmation somewhere you will see it every day.

4. Specialised Knowledge

The advice here is not to simply acquire knowledge but to acquire the specific knowledge that you need to achieve your goal and become an expert in it, as specialists are always sought after. This is advice still given to business people today and is becoming more and more important in our increasingly open economy. People rarely search in Google for a Jack-of-all-trades. People search to solve a specific problem. Specialised knowledge and, more importantly, the application of specialised knowledge will ensure your services are always sought after.

5. Imagination

According to the book, there are two types of imagination. Synthetic imagination is caused by the effects around us and Creative imagination, which becomes the cause of the effects around us. Hill says that while both are necessary, Creative imagination is the most important for becoming successful. However, he also suggests that in most of us it is underutilised and that to really develop it we must practice using it. If you can perceive it you can achieve it.

6. Organised Planning

This section does what it says on the tin. Create a detailed plan for success and write it down. This section also covers 30 majors causes of failure. Most of these are common sense although ones such as ‘lack of controlled sexual urge’ (more of this later, the info not the urge) and ‘wrong selection of a mate in marriage’ may raise eyebrows among modern readers. He also lists ‘28 questions to ask yourself’ which are actually pretty good. This section is LONG.

7. Decision

Hard to disagree with this one but until a few years ago I didn't appreciate how important decisions are. Most people wish for things, but no matter how strong the desire, very little happens until you make a decision on a conscious and unconscious level. This is about deciding what you want and genuinely committing to it. Once you have done this, you will find yourself doing all the right things even when you are not consciously thinking about your goal. Indecision kills motivation and action. Surprisingly, this section is quite short.

8. Persistence

Here, Hill shares stories of people who tried and failed numerous times and then just as they were about to give up they became successful. He stresses the importance of not being deterred by failure and persisting until you get what you want. Reading this chapter, it was hard not to think about all the stories of those who persisted and still failed. We never hear about those but nevertheless, I agree, we can’t fall at the first hurdle.

9. Power of the Master Mind

Hill explains that in order to achieve what you desire, you need to align your thought vibrations with similar vibrations, which can be achieved by keeping the company of like-minded people. This is a an everyday activity among entrepreneurs and freelancers today and understandably so. It stands to reason that each individual can do good things, but when we combine our ideas with those of other suitably motivated and intelligent people, the outputs of the collective are bound to be more than that of any one individual. You’re only as good as the company you keep.

10. The Mystery of Sex Transmutation

This is one of the most controversial points in the book. Hill claims that we all have sexual energy (so far, so good) and that we can harness or ‘transmute’ this into energy and motivation for achieving what we want. I’m not sure what he means by this. I don’t know if he is saying that sexual energy is like our ‘get up and go’ and we need to channel it wisely or if he is actually suggesting that we abstain from sex in order to use this energy for more worthwhile pursuits. I think he had young men from the 20s and 30s who concerned themselves with chasing women instead of developing their careers in mind when he wrote this. In today's time-poor world, I dare say most of us would like to transmute our work energy into sex energy.

11. The Subconscious Mind

This is where I was beginning to get a bit bored. Hill suggests that when we truly want something we are often limited by our beliefs and not being able to ‘align vibrations ‘in a manner that will help us make our desire a reality. He says that we can control our subconscious mind by controlling and quieting our conscious mind and instilling the beliefs we want to see reflected in our lives. He recommends that this is best achieved through meditation because we can truly control and tune into our subconscious.

Despite my boredom, I could see his point. We are raised by our school system and world of employment to value the use of our logical, practical, conscious mind. However, it is how we focus our unconscious minds that shape our decisions and behaviour. Hill is right that a greater awareness of our more intuitive, emotional selves is needed for success.

12. The Brain

Again, I felt the book was getting very repetitive at this point and I was losing the will to live but as with much of the book there are still some useful points being made.

Hill likens the brain to television broadcasting. He says the subconscious mind is the ‘sending station’ of signals and that Creative Imagination is the ‘receiving station’. He highlights the importance of emotion in making brain vibrations (or signals) stronger and how we need to use our creative imagination and meditation to be in a good state to receive the suggestions (or signals) from our subconscious. Given this book was published a good 70 or so years before Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, that isn’t a bad explanation of how the brain works given the vocabulary Hill had available to him at the time.

13. The Sixth Sense

Here, Hill encourages the reader to spend more time meditating and tuning into their subconscious mind. He claims your subconscious mind is your connection with the infinite wisdom of the universe. When we tune into our subconscious which, in turn, is tuned into the universe, we get answers to our questions that would otherwise have eluded us. These answers may come to us as hunches or gut feelings and this is why they must not be ignored.

What did I think of the book?

The book reads like a TV Evangelist Pastor convincing you that you will reach paradise if only you believe enough. It is very wordy and repetitive and I found this hard going at times.

I also wish I hadn’t looked up any information about Napoleon Hill when reading the book. A quick search will reveal numerous failed business ventures, bankruptcy and fraud. Hill himself didn’t come into money until towards the end of his life which made me doubt his formula.

I also couldn’t help focusing on the fact that during Hill’s day, if you were a well-connected white male it seems that the ‘you can achieve anything you set your mind to’ mentality was probably true. I’m not sure success would come so readily to anyone outside that demographic. In fact, I’m not even convinced Hill achieved such success himself. He certainly didn’t seem to practice what he preached.

Nonetheless, the book was well ahead of its time. Many of the lessons in it still apply today and many of the ideas within the book are rehashed by silicon valley bloggers and entrepreneurs even today. There are many successful business leaders who claim to have been inspired by Think and Grow Rich. If you want to think and grow rich yourself, then you might be better to read some of many modern books on the psychology of success. However, If like me, you have an interest in self-improvements books, then this is a fascinating insight into the early thinking of the genre.

What should I read next?

Have you read Think and Grow Rich? What did you get from it? What should I read next?

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