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Napoleon Hill Study Notes

Tuesday June 9, 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve posted study notes, but since I mentioned Napoleon Hill yesterday, I thought I’d review the Wikipedia article.

So here we go! Napoleon Hill, Success Author and Entrepreneur.

And…fraud?

The bullet points:

  • Napoleon was generally business- and entrepreneurship-oriented
  • He was highly risk-tolerant
    • Invited or made large investments up front
  • Highly prospective: New idea—let’s try it.
  • Highly receptive to new trends & business models
  • Established new ventures top-down
    • Dean, CEO, etc. as if the business was a guaranteed thing, day one
  • Taught charisma, boldness
  • Made big claims
  • Seemed to make excuses for e.g. missing records which would verify his claims about his past (Chicago storage fire)
  • First major success in 1928: The Law of Success
  • Desired an opulent lifestyle
    • Went into consumer debt to do so
  • The Great Depression hit, forcing asset foreclosure. Another reset due to lack of stability.
  • He traveled and failed at various business ventures
  • In 1935, his first wife filed for divorce. Argh. Sad…
  • Think and Grow Rich published
    • He was greatly assisted in writing it by his new wife Rosa
    • The book was a big success
    • Still, the success seems to have been overstated! Amazing, the bluffing.
    • Once again this brought him wealth
    • Once again, he pursued a lavish lifestyle
  • 1940 divorce; much of book wealth went to Rosa
  • Once again he set out pursuing success
  • 1943 remarried; Hill started lecturing in California.
  • Publishing patterns:
    • His works were success-oriented. Perhaps at first because it eluded him?
    • Rewrote old manuscripts; saw re-use value of own works
    • Believed in the high value of ideas / concepts
    • Seemingly lied about personal experiences in order to sell his ideas / books
  • Seemed OK with half-truths or outright lies in order to achieve success
    • Seemingly lied about being an attorney
    • Lied about meeting famous people
    • Lied about prospects of those who followed his advice
    • Lied to those who signed up for schooling at his institutions
  • Charged with fraud / was seemingly OK with committing fraud, over and over
  • Drew heavily on the intuition in his works and philosophy
  • Drew heavily on harmonization and interpersonal value
  • Value readers could expect from his works:
    • Benign pressure to take courage
    • Encouragement to explore the way others work / be open to others’ ideas
    • Urgings to keep one’s chin up
    • Urgings to believe in one’s own success
    • Invitations to believe in universal laws & New Thought principles

Psychological Value Dichotomies

Napoleon was…

  • Better with mental information than sensory accomplishment
    • Better at lecturing than doing
    • Better at ideation than building
  • Better at projecting interpersonal energy than building relationships
  • Better with periods of high risk than stability / sustainability
  • Better at bluffing than proving / evidencing
  • Better at material pursuits than moral pursuits
    • The high life vs. the good life
  • Better at absorbing grand failure than stacking up little successes
  • Better at encouraging or stimulating than providing or giving
    • e.g. Energetic endowments vs. monetary endowments
  • Better at starting projects than carrying-through
  • Better at ending projects than sustaining

(Note: None of these dichotomies are meant to imply weakness so much as provide a mental profile)

Closing Thoughts

Well, that’s what I got from the Wikipedia version of his life, anyway. It was enough to help the reader establish some patterns, even if there’s a lot we don’t know.

My mental model of Napoleon Hill is right in the ENTP zone so far. The mental model of “ENTP means blind-spot Fi” unfortunately seems to hold true here; morality and relational dynamics (common to various models of introverted feeling, or Fi) seemed to hold little or no interest to Napoleon Hill. I would guess that fairness and authentic partner-care were justified concerns on the parts of others involved in personal or business relationships with him.

Reflecting on my experience with his books, I do feel a bit abused in these ways:

  • It seems that he lied about who he was, what he accomplished, and therefore the entire value proposition of the book was left in question. I was given what amounted to false evidence, and encouraged to believe that it would work if I’d just believe in it.
  • Hill wasn’t authentic about the need for, or lack of, a psychological backstop of personal values systems when money or goals fell through. I’m guessing he repressed this question. I certainly don’t recall much focus on it in his stories. Indeed, looking at his own life, his own pattern was very simple: Don’t think about your own value, simply take it as a constant. Treat life as more of a game than a values exploration. This puts a lot of readers in a hard place, because they absolutely do need to consider this (completely missing) values question given their own personality dynamics.
  • Hill doesn’t seem to have given much, if any, focus to his personal weaknesses. He didn’t seem to care about personal development, though he encouraged it in others. He encouraged others to develop in themselves the capacity to become more like him! This reminds me of Linda Berens’ Be Like Me concept of personality.

Learning points:

  • It’s tempting to embellish, or lie, in order to sell something. A story, a business idea, etc. It’s a good reminder to give this attention, as the economic world does indeed encourage and incentivize this kind of behavior. This sets up a painful Fi-blind-spot reveal later on, which can not only affect us but also our friends, family, and fans.
  • Some people are born with a higher capacity for risk tolerance, resilience, and the ability to more or less ignore how they feel about themselves as they push forward. This doesn’t mean they’ll be a success. It also doesn’t mean they’re worth listening to, or learning from.
  • Someone can sell you on their viewpoint or philosophy long before you ever learn whether they’re worth learning from. This calls for periodic reflection and taking compass readings from one’s own value system.
  • People really, really want energy, courage, and motivation from day one. In my experience, this is a lifetime development process. It may be that we need to change the cultural narrative around energy so to help build a more resilient and stable-success-prone humanity.

Anyway, while reading about Napoleon I was reminded of these ENTPs:

  • John McAfee
    • The mad scramble to get attention, cultivate energy, develop and hold onto big ideas long enough to see how they pan out
    • Romantic, grandiose view of life
  • Tony Buzan (RIP, April 2019)
    • Highly charismatic. Heavy focus on ideas. Entrepreneurial. Attracted some doubt regarding specific teachings or principles. Writing & lecturing gifts.
  • Don Pendleton
    • Author / creator of the Executioner and Mack Bolan series of books.
    • Highly charismatic, romantic, idealistic in concept and speech. High-minded.

That’s all for now…it was fun to review, and I’ll give him this: He left behind an interesting history!

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