A Twenty First Century Christian Review of Napoleon Hill’s "Think & Grow Rich" Part One

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In this article I will cover the biblical admonitions regarding the obtaining of wealth, a brief biological sketch of Napoleon Hill, followed by a survey of his ideas on business success. The reader will be amazed at some of Hill’s brilliant and at the same time common sense ideas of obtaining wealth. This section will focus on the positive contribution Hill made. Part two (separate article) I will cover the negative and out right dangers in Hill’s philosophy of success.

To begin this review, I would be negligent as a Christian not to mention the Biblical admonitions against the “deceitfulness of riches” Matt. 13:22 and our Lord’s warning that “you cannot serve God and Mammon” Luke 16:13. As Christians we are instructed to “seek first the Kingdom of God” Matt. 6:33. In case there is any confusion at this point I do not equate money as being evil. The distinction I see is stated by the apostle Paul when he tells us that “For the Love of Money is the root of all evil” 1st Tim 6:10.

If the reader is to take anything away from this review, it should be how to approach the topic of gaining wealth and success and excellence in business by being fully aware of the personal motives behind this desire. Have you been influenced by the ways of this world? Consider this: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Mark 8:36.

As Christians we should desire success and excellence in our endeavors not only to be a witness for Christ but also to bring glory to God. The Bible gives us instructions on life if followed will not lead to poverty. Negatively, we are neither to be a “sluggard” Prov. 20:4 nor “to love sleep” Prov. 20:13. Positively: “…diligent hands bring wealth” Prov. 10:4 “The plans of the diligent lead to profit…” Prov. 21:5. And finally, from Prov. 31:10-31; is the praise given to the noble or virtuous woman.

To begin this review, let me state up front that I see some positive guidelines for achieving success and excellence in business in Napoleon Hill’s book. Conversely, there are sections and material in Hill’s book that are antithetical to Christian beliefs and practice that the reader should be aware of. First I will offer the briefest biographical sketch and then a survey of some of the positive material in the book. In the concluding section I will point out some of the Biblically speaking problematic areas of Hill’s theories. This review is limited to Hill’s book “Think & Grow Rich” and not to his work in future years, although I will comment on it.

Napoleon Hill was born on Oct. 26th, 1883 and died Nov. 8th 1970. Hill is best known as the author of one of the best selling books of all time called “Think & Grow Rich.” Napoleon Hill is the father of what can be described as personal success or motivational literature. Hill’s biographer, Michael J. Ritt, Jr., tells us that he was born in poverty in a one-room cabin in the town of Pound, Virginia, a rural area. At the age of 13, he began writing for small town newspapers. He used his earnings as a reporter to enter law school, but had to drop out for monetary reasons.

The turning point in his career happened with his assignment, to write a series of articles about famous men and to interview the wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Hill learned that Carnegie believed the process of success could be explained in a simple formula that could be learned and put into practice by the average person. Carnegie was impressed with Hill and subsequently commissioned him and provided him with letters of reference so that he could interview over 500 successful men and women to discover and publish this formula for success. This project went on for 20 years and culminated in Hill becoming an advisor to Carnegie and the publication of “Think & Grow Rich.” The knowledge obtained from the interviews with the leaders of industry is where you find the value of Hill’s book.

It is amazing on how many of Hill’s ideas are used as quotes for practical encouragement. Some of the more common quotations of Napoleon Hill are:

o Think and grow rich

o Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything

o Your big opportunity may be right where you are now

o If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way

o A goal is a dream with a deadline

o Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk in life

o Perseverance: The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those that fail

o Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit

o Thoughts mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and burning desires are powerful things

o The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail

o First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination

o If you’re not learning while you’re earning, you’re cheating yourself out of the better portion of your compensation

o It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed

We find that much of Hill’s book is an analysis of the capitalist system in America and how it works. Hill believed that he had discovered a principle that allows the regular every day people to achieve success. Hill called his success teachings “The Philosophy of Achievement” and he considered freedom, democracy and capitalism, to be important causative factors in his discovery. Hill’s ideas would not work in a Marxist or a centralized planned economy because the tyrannical regulation and taxation would destroy anyone’s ability to strive for success since the fruits of success would be given to others who would squander it, since it had no intrinsic value to them. Hill believed in personal honesty and in not cheating your fellow man or employees. The cheat or dishonest person would eventually be seen for what he is. A leader has to be one of moral and ethical integrity.

Hill believed that you achieve success by doing superior quality work, treating your customers as number one at all times and how anyone can become successful if they overcome their personal shortcomings. Hill also incorporates a lot of good, practical business advice like finding new opportunities created by what we would call today as disruptive technologies. Also key according to Hill, is having a written business plan and not deviating from it, along with not being afraid to make mistakes as long as you grow and learn from the mistakes. If you find your strategy to be in error you must be able to reformulate your plans. Hill believed that most people never succeed simply because a lack of ambition or self discipline. Relating to discipline, Hill said: “If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.” Today there is a course on business success called Personal Mastery which is influenced by Hill’s research.

The beginning of Hill’s philosophy began first with a thought, hence the title “Think & Grow Rich.” First you formulate a plan mentally. It involves desire, belief and passion, (absolutely essential for success) auto-suggestion (a controversial area of his research) obtaining specialized knowledge, (very helpful) using the imagination, (portions of this are very controversial) organized planning, (very helpful) decision making, persistence, the master mind group, (portions of this section is very helpful) the last three areas transmutation, the subconscious mind and finally the brain are also quite controversial and unproven. One thing is certain; ideas most certainly do have consequences. In this respect, business success beginning first with an idea cannot be questioned.

As said, there are many positive ideas in “Think & Grow Rich” such as organized planning, and finding a group of people who think like you, and then turning those plans into reality. Hill was a believer in the fact that all successful people were successful because they are able to find like minded people who think as they do and who could be recruited into a business venture with them. Then their abilities, talents and passion could be utilized for benefit of the business venture. Hill is basically saying: “don’t hang around with people who don’t think like you do.” Stay away from negative people since their negativity will affect you. Our parents were correct in warning us against hanging around with the wrong crowd.

Hill’s business success ideas focused on goal setting and making sure that decisions are carried through with consistency. In the area of responsibility, it means that you are responsible for your own outcomes, and it is important that failures are not something to fixate on. Everyone has failures, and we should learn from them, including figuring out what caused them to happen. Most failures involve a breakdown of vision, or a failure to plan to take advantage of a new situation that may have arisen. An individual that is focused on success should not fixate on failure. We can learn from mistakes and grow. Mistakes can be turned into successes.

Hill’s ideas on leadership are well thought out. His eleven points on the attributes of leadership are excellent and exactly the traits you would hope any business leader would have. Likewise, the ten major causes in failure of leadership are also very perceptive. His 31 major causes of failure are points that are surprisingly accurate reasons for every person who tries and fails in business. His 28 questions for self analysis are helpful to avoid self-deception. However his teaching on transmutation of sexual energy has probably offended or shocked many as sounding sexist. It is accurate according to Hill that sexual energy can be turned into creative energy and not simply wasted in vain physical affairs. It is also accurate to acknowledge that behind every great man one usually finds a great woman.

Some of the many positive things that can be learned from “Think & Grow Rich” can be summarized by citing several of his ideas relevant to business, such as “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” “Perseverance: The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those that fail,” “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits,” “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed” and “The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.” Hill’s philosophy of success was grounded in the real world to a large extent as can be seen by his statement that: “Riches do not respond to wishes. They respond only to definite plans, backed by definite desires, through constant persistence,” and “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.”

As the reader works their way through the book, they will see that much of Hill’s work boils down to setting goals, and making sure that important decisions are acted upon thus insuring your success. Hill is saying that you must put your plans into action. Hill was a believer that a group of people on the same wave-length and positively focused is substantially greater than a group of disorganized individuals. Of all the successful leaders Hill interviewed, all of them attributed their success to being able to see opportunities, and most importantly, in finding people who can be delegated to help achieve success. It is not enough to work hard, one must also find like minded people, and inspire them to work hard as a team on getting things done.

This idea of recruiting and inspiring individuals so that they be delegated various responsibilities reminds me of what J. Paul Getty once wrote, “I would much rather receive 1% of the efforts of 100 men than 100% of my own.” Much of the material in Hill’s book has been tremendously helpful for those individuals involved with network marketing. To illustrate this Hill said: “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Those involved in the Network Marketing industry will understand appreciate this concept.

Hill tried to systematize steps to become successful in this book and to a large degree he was successful if one confines his work to the real world or common sense ideas. In my next article I will look at some of the dangers in Hill’s work. Stay tuned!

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