Think and Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill is a business classic. Published during the Great Depression, the book provides an inspirational look at perseverance and the qualities of character that are necessary for success.
A recent book from the Napoleon Hill Foundation modernizes Hill’s book. Relating the stories of dozens of successful businessmen, Three Feet from Gold provides an abundance of pithy nuggets of wisdom. The title comes from the story of a prospector who abandoned a mine. Though he had found a small amount of gold in the mine, he eventually concluded that he had found the small amount in the mine and sold his property. The new owner dug three feet in a slightly different direction and discovered a huge deposit of gold. The original owner had literally stopped three feet from gold.
It is often the case that we abandon our dreams too quickly. Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, it can be easy to give up. And often success was just another step or two away.
This does not mean that we should never abandon a goal. There are times when doing so is the rational thing to do. However, such decisions should not be made lightly or in haste. Anything of value requires effort and perseverance when times are tough.
Set in a small Southern town, To Kill a Mockingbird is a quintessential story about justice. The movie, which won 3 Oscars (including best actor for Gregory Peck), was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same title.
Told through the eyes of a precocious 6-year-old tomboy named Scout, the story revolves around Atticus Finch’s (Peck) principled defense of Tom Robinson, a poor black man who is wrongly accused of rape. Intermixed is the story of the fascination Scout and her brother have with Boo Radley, their shy, mysterious neighbor whom the townspeople believe is insane.
At the heart of the conflict lies self-induced ignorance and blind hatred versus benevolence and uncompromising principles. The conflict reaches its apex when Atticus rebuffs an armed mob with nothing more than the power of his convictions.
Just as Atticus stood alone, so we must often stand alone as the owner of a smallbusiness . We must often reject the common wisdom and create a new path. We must often stand alone, with nothing but our independent judgment.
Business success requires that we offer a superior value than our competitors. This means breaking the mold, being better in some regard. It means that we can’t do it like everyone else. That takes strength in our convictions, confidence in our judgment, and the courage to tell the mob to go home.
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt, was first published in 1984 and has become one of the most popular business books ever published.
Written in novel form, The Goal traces the story of a struggling factory and how its employees turned it into a profitable operation. By identifying “bottlenecks” managers were better able to manage resources and improve overall production.
The Theory of Constraints introduced in the novel states that the maximum output is limited to the maximum output of the “bottleneck”. Put into other terms, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
As the story unfolds we learn that managers often focus on the wrong things. While statistics and measurements can be useful tools, they are valuable only to the extent they help us achieve our primary goal. And in the context of business, all companies share the same primary goal– to make a profit.
Measurements of efficiency, for example, can be misleading. If we focus on maximizing the efficiency of each step of a process, we might actually decrease the efficiency of the overall process. That is, we must look at the big picture before we look at the details. And when we examine the details, we must always remain focused on the big picture.
In the context of a factory (the setting for the novel), this might mean keeping a particular machine idle at times. If the machine produces more than the next step of the process can handle, the excess accumulates as inventory. Both the inventory and the manpower used to produce and move increase expenses. In this situation management should focus on increasing “throughput”, that is, the amount of product available for sale.
The significant message in The Goal is the process of discovering and correcting “bottlenecks”. But this process is not a one-time event. It is a continuous process, or as the subtitle states: “a process of ongoing improvement.”