My coach recommended that I read Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill. I just completed it. It is a rare book that made such an impact on me that I feel compelled to share it with everyone I know. To entice you to read it yourself, I decided to give you an overview of what excites me so much about its value.
Napoleon Hill is considered the founder of the science of personal and professional development. As an ambitious young man, he approached steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in 1908 with a plan to put himself through law school. He would interview successful men such as Carnegie and write and publish articles that shared their secrets of success. Carnegie liked the idea but challenged him to take it to another level. The clever old Scot bade him to take up a 20-year formal project, during which time Hill would need to find other gainful employment as it would pay nothing. He instructed Hill that the tremendous personal sacrifice would result in a work of rare importance. Hill took him up.
He interviewed 500 ‘successful’ men and over 25,000 whom were judged ‘failures.’ The results of this seminal research project culminated most famously in Hill’s classic book Think and Grow Rich, first published in 1937. According to the Napoleon Hill Foundation, over 100 million copies of that book have sold, making it by far the best selling personal development book of all time. Hill espoused The Philosophy of Achievement. This way of thinking has fueled not only the movement for personal development but myriad organizational development innovations. It is why I do what I do.
In 1938, Hill wrote another important manuscript. His wife begged him not to publish it, and he obliged. Though Hill died in 1970 and Annie Lou in 1984, it wasn’t until 2011 that the path was cleared for the publication of Outwitting the Devil. Its timing seems most appropriate and opportune.
The format of the book is an interview between Hill and the Devil, who is not a physical manifestation but represents the negative energy of the Universe. It is not overtly religious, as in this telling the Devil refers to his positive counterpart as the ‘Opposition.’ Through the power of determination and ironclad will, Hill forces a confession of sorts from the Devil whereby he spills the beans about his purposes, means, and rules of his operations in the human world.
The format is compelling, but the content is even more so. It amazes me that this book was written in 1938. The Devil speaks in detail about the operation of the human brain and what would constitute an ideal education system. Those lines of thought were uncannily ahead of their time and feel like they could have been written today. The true gold in the book is the dispelling of common illusions and unveiling of the traps that limit our potential and rob us of joy, peace, and harmony.
The first revelation the Devil imparts is the state of his influence in the world. He claims that 98 of 100 people belong to him. The two percent that successfully evade him do so because they have somehow mastered the ability of independent thought. The reasons that so few have this mastery are because of the Devil’s clever use of institutions and his master skill to play upon fears. The most common command in the Bible is ‘fear not.’ It appears approximately 80 times (some claim 365 times, but one must stretch the concept to come up with this number.) Maybe this isn’t a coincidence.
The institutions that the Devil claims as most useful to his purposes may surprise you. He says schools and churches are his biggest allies. He spells out in detail how these serve his ends and what precisely could be done to remedy the situation. He also remains confident that those remedies will never be applied, even though he is forced to reveal the most likely path by which they could.
The Devil’s main trick is that he causes us to ‘drift.’ What he means by that is that he dilutes our clarity and our passion and distracts us from truth and purpose. We thus become susceptible to all manner of fears and negative thoughts such as anger, jealousy, hatred, greed, and lust. He explains that you are drifting when your life is not of your design and you have not manifested precisely what you want. This may be where he gets that 2% who he considers free of his grasp.
He emphasizes that he is bound by Natural Law, as are we humans. But he also explains that humans are unique in that we can exercise free will. It is this power that foils his plans. In order to exercise our free will, we must first cultivate and keep the capacity for independent thought. Though the deck is stacked against us as we are bombarded by a never ending assault of propaganda, Hill forces him to reveal the means of our emancipation.
The Devil calls the most significant one the Law of Hypnotic Rhythm. Today we might use terms such as habit, momentum, or ‘vibe.’ It is the recognition that there is a power of persistence in all things. This works for habits that control you, such as smoking, drinking, sexual indulgence, and over-eating. It also works for habits that free you, such as honesty, integrity, purposefulness, and self-control. It is by these means that we may escape his intricate web of deceit.
I encourage you to read, no study, the book. It is likely (98% according to Hill’s Devil) your life is not currently exactly what you would have it be. Hill’s life work delivers the revelation that it is in your power to change this. You must first make a definite, non-revocable decision to do so.