Napoleon Hill’s Real Reason for Growing Rich

Napoleon Hill, author of the 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, has made a significant contribution to the emergence of the multibillion-dollar personal improvement industry.

Entrepreneurs and executives get together outside of work to exchange ideas and share advice in Mastermind Groups, which Hill first described. 

As Hill explained, the Law of Attraction states that you will attract what you want if you focus on getting it. 

Many of the present-day gurus, such as Tony Robbins and Robert Kiyoaski, get their inspiration from Hill.

Based on Hill’s influence, one might assume that this was the culmination of a blockbuster career. However, the record shows otherwise. 

Hill had a string of embarrassing and shady failures before he became the founder of the self-help movement. 

His business pursuits typically ended in bankruptcy, and he was charged with check altering, selling unlicensed stock, and other forms of outright fraud.

It was a fabrication that led to his greatest success. Think and Grow Rich, according to Hill, began with a conversation he had with steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, at the end of which Carnegie set up interviews between Hill and leading business minds of the day–including Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison. 

For the general public, the author hoped that the wisdom of these great men could be reduced to easy-to-digest success secrets. David Nasaw, Carnegie’s most illustrious biographer, states that there is no record of the two men ever having met. 

Hill almost ensured people would never question his claims by stating them with great confidence within the pages of a book.

How Napoleon Hill Did It

The privilege of owning a book was restricted to an elite few for the better part of history. In the past, being an author was nearly unthinkable for most people. Every copy of every book was handwritten before the invention of the printing press. 

Getting a book out into the world and distributing it on a large scale still required enormous efforts and organization even after mass production became possible. 

In response to the demand, a large network of publishers, printers, editors, attorneys, and agents grew up. With such extensive infrastructure, it became imperative to determine which books would be worth the time, effort, and expense of producing and promoting. 

Consequently, publishers became quite adept at identifying the figures whose ideas deserved to be heard. In other words, credibility was a prerequisite for becoming a writer.

Establishing credibility is crucial to getting people to follow you. A series of experiments was conducted by psychologists Carl Hovland and Walter Weiss in which subjects were presented with arguments which contradicted their beliefs at the beginning of each session. 

People wearing street clothes and with no known background spoke about these opinions in some instances. Others displayed overt authority and credentials when they presented their arguments.

People who received controversial opinions from the more visibly credible figures were more likely to change their minds than those who received them from strangers. We should keep in mind that none of the experts offering these arguments ever offered any evidence of their credentials. All they did was display the appearance of credibility. But that was not enough.

People who are otherwise intelligent are so quick to trust the ideas and claims of those who display the symbols of credibility, regardless of the fact that the credibility is not backed up by any evidence?

It is simply unavoidable. Humans are wired that way.

This concept was explored in detail by science writer Leonard Mlodinow in his bestselling book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. In other words, our brains don’t care about digging into all the details that go into making someone credible. 

Instead, they focus on a few salient features to assign an object to a category and then judge the item based on that category. 

In order to convince our mental circuitry that the person we are considering following is capable, creative, and smart enough to lead us, we are searching for a shortcut. No matter how someone became a book author, it satisfies this need.

Napoleon Hill’s Hidden Law

It is now known that Hill did not practice many of the virtues he exhorted others to live by despite his reputation for cracking the code to what it takes to become immensely wealthy.

Although he was a very famous and very wealthy man in his day, his estate generates substantial income even today.

In studying Hill to determine how to succeed, it is worth considering that they might be focusing on the wrong parts of his story. It turns out that Hill couldn’t think, grow rich, and then write a book about it all. Instead, he wrote a book, and the riches followed.

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