Perhaps my favorite business book is Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich." I recommend reading and rereading it, perhaps even annually, to keep your focus laser-sharp.
Now I have an addition for your reading list: "Outwitting the Devil," written by Hill in 1938 but never before released. Sharon Lechter, co-author of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," has annotated this complex and compelling work, interpreting it for our times.
The book's history is fascinating. Hill wrote it more than seven decades ago, but his family and advisers considered it too controversial for release. This book will no doubt make some readers squirm, but I'll bet the farm it will make even more readers sit up and take action.
The topic couldn't be more timely -- breaking through inhibitions and living a life free from fear, doubt and dependency. Staring down those devils is an ongoing struggle. Life is constantly throwing us challenges and fanning the flames of fear. Hill identifies the seven principles of good that lead to success.
As Lechter explains: "Hill's other works were published during the Great Depression and indeed helped millions of people find hope and courage to live in faith that they would find their own paths to success. I believe we can find many parallels between his time and our own.
"It is during periods of great stress that we find our will and our inner strength. With the current economic uncertainties, people are choosing -- or being forced -- to find new paths to provide for themselves and their families, and many will find great success."
Perhaps you are familiar with the expression, "It's always darkest before dawn." Most of us can identify times when we were so sure we would fail that we nearly gave up trying, doubted our ability to improve our situation, or gave in to fear and ignored opportunities.
There are remarkable stories of enormous business success that arose during some of the darkest economic times. For example, of the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones industrial average, 16 were started during a recession or depression. You might recognize some of them: Procter & Gamble, Disney, Alcoa, McDonald's, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson.
Other brainchildren of recessions include Intuit, Whole Foods, J. Crew, Costco and Applebee's. Success stories span all industries and occupations.
Are you reading this with Microsoft software? Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft in the 1975 recession.
About 100 years before that, Thomas Edison laid the groundwork for the formation of General Electric. He created one of the best-known inventions of all time -- the incandescent lightbulb -- in the middle of the Panic of 1873, a six-year recession. GE is now the sixth-largest company in the United States.
And perhaps my favorite story of staring down your fears is the success of my dear friend and mentor, the late Curt Carlson. In 1938, with an idea and a $55 loan, Curt founded the Gold Bond Stamp Co. in Minneapolis. His company allowed grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations and other independent merchants to use collectible Gold Bond Stamps to drive customer loyalty and distinguish themselves from their competitors. The surviving company, Carlson, is now the global leader in travel and hospitality.
Do you think all these companies opened their doors with absolute certainty that success was just around the corner?
No, what differentiated them were the fearless leaps of faith that they had something no one else had -- something consumers would use -- and that opportunities were staring straight at them. The entrepreneurial spirit would not surrender to demons.
It doesn't matter if you are a one-person shop or a worldwide operation. Allowing fear to rule your thinking limits your potential. Assess risks and do your homework, but don't be your own worst enemy.
Perhaps the reason I remain so inspired by the work of Napoleon Hill is that I have practiced his philosophy. My regular readers are familiar with my own story: the 26-year-old would-be entrepreneur who buys a near-bankrupt envelope company, decides to go after the biggest accounts in town -- and eventually sells to all of them. I know that my fears of failure were real, but I had no fear of hard work or success.
As Napoleon Hill said: "Your only limitation is the one which you set up in your own mind!"
Mackay's Moral: You are stronger than your worst fears. Show them who's the boss.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.