by: Geoff Ficke

The Pioneer of Personal Success Literature Should Be Required Reading for Today’s Leaders

When I was a young chap just out of college in 1969 and about to start a business career I was very fortunate to have had a mentor. This gentleman was a successful manufacturer in Lexington, KY where I had recently graduated from the University of Kentucky. For reasons I never fully understood he took me under his wing and patiently guided me toward a life of opportunities that I never thought existed. He was successful. I was the first person in my family to ever go to college much less to graduate. He had travelled widely and enjoyed many interesting experiences. I had almost never been out of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He had much to teach. I had very much still to learn.

One of the great lessons my mentor provided was the importance of constantly studying the traits that make people successful. In this vain, he gifted me a book when I graduated. After years of study and struggle to complete my degree studies another book was not exactly on my list of highly desired possessions. This book, however, was a difference maker in my life.

The book was Napoleon Hill’s classic “Think and Grow Rich”. Written in 1938, this book is considered a pioneering study in the emerging field of Personal Success Literature. Today Self-Help publications are ubiquitous. The book “Think and Grow Rich” was really the progenitor of the evolutionary contemporary phenomena whereby individuals search for myriad ways to find the best path to achieving their goals, whether personal, social or professional.

Napoleon Hill was born in 1883 into grinding poverty in Appalachian Virginia. He became a mountain reporter for local newspapers at the age of 13. As his journalism career slowly advanced Mr. Hill enjoyed a bit of life changing luck in 1908. He was assigned to conduct an interview with and write an article about Andrew Carnegie, the great steel industrialist. The topic was to be about the achievement of success and how great accomplishments could be obtained in many areas of life.

Andrew Carnegie was impressed with Hill. He shared openly with him a philosophy that he believed was the key to his success and could be transferred to enable others to climb the ladder of success. Carnegie encouraged and assisted Hill in interviewing over 500 of the most important, successful men of the day, including: William Howard Taft, Elmer Gates, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. The goal was to discover the common thread that ran through the successes that each of these leaders in their fields had utilized to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. It took many years for Napoleon Hill to accumulate the data that he believed was essential in enabling ordinary people to improve their status in life.

The resulting code was established in Hill’s “Philosophy of Achievement”. This formula was originally published in the multi-volume “The Laws of Success” in 1925. The book became a sensation. Soon it was released in the famous home study course “Mental Dynamite”, also a huge critical and commercial success.

The four cornerstones of Napoleon Hill’s “Philosophy of Achievement” were freedom, capitalism, harmony and democracy. His stated belief was that success in any chosen field of endeavor could not be realized if even one of these cornerstones were missing. America had prospered mightily for 200 years because of these traits that were so unique to this country. Negative emotions such as fear and selfishness were always present in unsuccessful people according to Hill’s philosophy.

Note that the philosophy that enables success is positive. Negative emotions are cornerstones of failure.

By the time of his death in 1970, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” was one of the most successful books of all time with sales of over 20 million copies. He was among the leading inspirations for a generation of subsequent “success coaches” such a Norman Vincent Peale, W. Clement Stone, Dr. Robert Schiller, Peter Drucker and Tony Robbins among many others. The 21st century philosophy of personal prosperity evangelizing has roots in Hill’s teachings.

Unfortunately much of the wisdom that was gifted us by thinkers such as Napoleon Hill has been diminished by the modern tendency to blame others for misfortune and seek protection from the vagaries of life. Fewer and fewer people today are willing to confront challenges and overcome any type of obstacle. The government or society is expected to provide comforts, basics, and yes, the ugliest word in the American idiom, entitlements. Children are pampered with participation trophies. Winning is frowned upon, no one should suffer a loss. The crucial life’s lessons we learn from losing a game or competition, or God forbid failing at work or in business, is being neutered.

Life does not work this way. There is more opportunity today than at any time in history. It simply must be seized. Instant gratification creates selfishness and envy to possess material things which others own, many have not worked for but for which they still crave. This is negativity at its ugliest.

Men like Napoleon Hill, and the hundreds of successful people he studied to develop his “Philosophy of Achievement” would not understand much of what is occurring in today’s entitled society. I would bet that the subsistence farmer, shop owner, seamstress or day laborer of 1908 would not either. There was no free lunch. America was the land of opportunity for all who wanted to come, get in the game and compete, taking advantage of this country’s four great gifts; Harmony, Democracy, Freedom and Capitalism.

21st century politicians, educators, religious leaders and intellectuals should study the principals that are espoused in all of Napoleon Hill’s writings. If they did, and took the time to digest his clear message, they would not be so quick to promote class differences, agitate for lame social policies which impoverish and reinforce the illusion that a distant government has the answers to every problem. Self-reliance is not only the best way to a fulfilling life; it is the most rewarding on so many levels.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.