From November 1980 SUCCESS Magazine
It was a chance encounter at O’Hare airport. We had met, once before, in New Orleans. He had introduced himself to me after
a luncheon where I addressed my fellow members of the National Speakers Association who had gathered at the Fairmont Hotel
for a three-day convention.
Now, in the swirling masses of the busiest airport in the world, he was asking me if I had any time to spare. I had more than
two hours before my flight to Phoenix, and he looked as if he could use a friendly shoulder, so we went into the coffee shop.
I’ll try to reconstruct our meeting, and, to guard against the possibility of any embarrassment to him, we’ll call him John.
Ten years ago, while he was still working as a low-paid hardware clerk in a small department store, he discovered the world
of self-help books in his local library. His life and world changed almost immediately. Starting a small company of his own
with meager savings, he became a multimillionaire before he was 35 years old. Since he gives most of the credit for his success
to books by Napoleon Hill, W. Clement Stone, Dale Carnegie and Maxwell Maltz, he decided to carry his message to the world–that
the secrets of success were available to all, at no charge, at the nearest library.
After we had sipped our coffee and shared common complaints about various airlines, he said, "Og, I really need your
advice. I’ve reached the point where I give more than 150 speeches a year, at a pretty healthy fee plus expenses, although,
as you know, I’m not doing if for the money. But I have just come from a convention in Minnesota where I delivered a speech
that was an absolute bomb. I mean, so help me, there was no reaction at all from a group of more than 500 franchised, small-store
owners, and this has never happened to me before."
"Everyone has an off day," I said. "Even Houston’s running back Earl Campbell doesn’t make 20-yard runs every
time he gets his hand on the ball."
He shook his head. "But this wasn’t an off day for me, I wasn’t ill or tired. In fact, I don’t recall when I felt better
before a speech. I know I was as powerful as ever in my presentation, but this group just sat there, stone-faced, glancing
at their watches now and then. It was awful!"
"What was the subject?"
"It was the same subject and the same speech that I delivered only two days ago in Atlanta to a group of insurance salespeople—and
they gave me a standing ovation when I finished. I call my speech. ‘The Magic of Self-Help Books,’ and I tell my audiences,
with specific and dramatic examples, how lives have been changed for the better with the help of the great classics dealing
with success and how to achieve it. Then I touch on specific books and what they did for me. I tell them how W. Clement Stone’s
Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude taught me to deal with adversity and how Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow
Rich taught me to develop a burning desire and how to follow through with my plans. I spell out for them how my business
tripled after I began using the ’10 scrolls of success’ from your book The Greatest Salesman in the World. And, of
course, throughout my speech, I remind them that what those books did for me can be achieved by any of them also, provided
they are willing to try.
"Believe me, Og," he continued, "it’s a good speech. I deliver it well. And as your know, I’m not one of those
so-called motivational speakers who dashes around the country, telling others how to be successful when his own past history
is a blank, except for the speeches he manages to book, year after year. I have a track record, and I’m proud of it! If I
never leave my home [he has three] or lift another finger at work, my family will never want for anything. I could, if I had
to, come up with $15 million in hard cash—and I owe it all to self-help books. I don’t know," he sighed. "Maybe
I wasn’t cut out for the missionary work…"
"John," I said, "I’m sure that your delivery to this group was terrific and that your talk is dynamite. Unfortunately,
you have just learned a lesson that all of us who are involved in the field of self-help—whether it be through books,
magazines, cassettes, speeches or seminars—have to learn the hard way. I’m just surprised that it has taken you so long."
He frowned and waited for me to continue. "First of all, you must remember that we are not a book-reading country—not
anymore, anyway. There are just too many interests laying claims on our time, and reading requires some effort compared to
turning on that television set. In a nation of more than 200 million, a book becomes a best-seller if it sells only 50,000
copies or so–and even among them, you will strain your eyes in vain if you’re looking for a self-help book. And the next
time you happen to be in your favorite drugstore or supermarket, take a look at the garbage, in their gaudy book jackets,
that fills the racks. What all that says for our country, I’m not sure.
"Most important," I continued, "you must remember, John, that there is no logical reason in the world why more
than half of our country’s huge labor force should read a self-help book, so far as they are concerned. They’re locked into
either a union or a civil-service job where their pay scale, this year, next year, 10 years from now, is not decided on merit
or ability but on longevity and the results of their latest strike or arbitration—and you can throw teachers, firemen,
policemen and all other civil servants into this basket, too. Why should any of them care about learning how to conquer bad
habits, develop enthusiasm, create a Positive Mental Attitude, organize their time or any of the other ingredients necessary
to achieve success and wealth? Their jobs have such limited horizons that things like going the extra mile seem senseless
and a waste of time. So why, John, should any of these people—and they are now the majority in our country—give
a damn about any self-help book, even if they did have the time or desire to read, which they don’t?"
"But isn’t that our challenge, Og?" he responded gamely. "I’m trying to show these people, this vast mediocrity,
that they don’t have to stay locked into their little jails—that they have all the tools that I have to make their lives
rewarding, profitable and a hell of a lot of fun."
I had to correct him. "John, they don’t have all the tools that you have! Yes, the tools are available to them. But if
they won’t make the effort to pick them up and use them, and none of us can convince everyone to do that, then the tools are
useless. Years ago, when I was closely associated with W. Clement Stone, I attended many of his speeches. He would always
say, somewhere in his talk, that if he could reach just one person who was listening to him that day, then he would not consider
his time wasted. In the beginning, I remember wondering what a strange remark that was, coming from a man who was always accustomed
to thinking big. Only as the years passed, and my own books achieved more success than I ever dreamed possible, did I finally
realize the wisdom behind his words and understand this hope that he could touch just one life out of any group. and I’m sure
that in that stone-faced audience you’ve just come from, you’ve reached at least one person—someone who is unhappy with
his life, who doesn’t want to go on just existing from day to day, who may feel that he has nothing to lose by trying your
suggestions… and," I grinned, "who may be at a library or bookstore right now, as we speak."
John lowered his head and muttered, "I never thought about any of that. Of course, I should have realized…"
"And I’ll bet that you’ve had your best acceptance from the sales groups that you have addressed, am I correct?"
"Have you ever asked yourself why?"
"Not really, because most of my talks have been before sales groups, and I just thought they were showing their appreciation
for a fine speech delivered well."
"Well, I’ll tell you. Every morning, when a salesperson leaves the house or apartment, his existence is on the line.
In most cases, it is a calculated risk that is being taken because salespeople, in general recognize the rewards that are
available if they produce. They are also painfully aware of that monster, failure, that lurks around every corner, since they
must live through each day hearing that terrible word, no, again and again.
"Fortunately, most of them have discovered a source, an oasis, a power supply, if you will, that provides them with unending
enthusiasm, instruction, proven trial-and-error methods, faith in themselves, plus an accumulated wisdom of generations of
brilliant individuals—all contained in self-help books. And through these magic books, they have learned to sell themselves
on themselves. They are made aware of their full potential, and they learn, gradually, how to cash in on their talents. When
you speak before groups of these striving people, you are simply reaffirming their own positive beliefs–especially when they
realize that you have $15 million to prove that the road you took, which happens to be the same road they’re trying to travel,
really pays off."
"But what about all the others? Are you suggesting that I accept speaking engagements before sales groups only?"
"Of course not. Remember what W. Clement Stone said, and if you think you can handle the stone-faced, unmotivated audiences
in the hope that you just might reach one individual with your message of hope for his future, through the magic of self-help
books, then you should keep trying—and I know you will."
"And what about all those I fail to reach with my message?"
Tough question. Needed a tough and—above all—an honest answer. I hesitated and then replied, "Try to remember
the words of a brilliant French writer, Blaise Pascal: ‘Pity the unbelievers; their condition makes them unhappy enough.’