I have written seven bestselling business books, and the title of each of them could have been "Prepare to Win." My publishers never thought that was a catchy enough title to help sell books, particularly business books, so I went with "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," "Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt" and so on.

But the real message of all of them is the same: "Prepare to win." In my own way, I was preparing to win the book-selling challenge by finding a title that would make readers want to learn more.

Life is all about preparation. Preparation is all about hard work, sacrifice, discipline, organization, consistency, practicing the right concepts and more. I subscribe to the wisdom of the oft-quoted sports maxim, "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win."

Many people have the will to win, but they aren't willing to put in the hard work and time required to become great at something. What makes this even more challenging is that preparation is not a one-time thing. You can't prepare to win once and then just let success flow. Great performers possess the will to prepare to win over and over again.

If you are unprepared to meet a challenge, you have little chance of succeeding. Or as Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

Historian Dumas Malone tells the story of how Thomas Jefferson handled the first meeting to decide the organization of the future University of Virginia. The university had been Jefferson's idea, but many others came forward with their own interests and agendas.

Jefferson showed up with meticulously prepared architectural drawings, detailed budgets for construction and operation, a proposed curriculum and the names of specific faculty he wanted.

No one else was even remotely prepared. The group essentially had to capitulate to Jefferson's vision. The university eventually was founded more or less in accordance with Jefferson's plan. Preparation pays off again.

And here's an amusing story that further illustrates the value of preparation: A farmer who owned land along the Atlantic seacoast constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic because they dreaded the awful storms that raged across the ocean, wreaking havoc on buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals. Finally, a short, thin man applied.

"Are you a good farmhand?" the farmer asked him.

"Well, I can sleep when the wind blows," answered the man. Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired the man. The man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man's work. Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters. He shook the man and yelled, "Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!"

The man rolled over in bed and said firmly, "No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows."

The farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. He hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarps. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops and the shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away.

The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed so he could also sleep while the wind blew.

Mackay's Moral: Don't blow it — prepare to win.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.