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Napoleon Hill’s Secrets: The True Keys to Success with Don Green

Interview Transcript

Mike Zipursky: Hi, everyone! It’s Michael Zipursky from Consulting Success. Today on the line, I have Don Green who is the Executive Director of the Napoleon Hill Foundation.

Many of you, if not most of you, I hope know about Napoleon Hill and his books and teachings including the bestseller, Think and Grow Rich.

Don became CEO of a bank at the age of 41 and made it a very profitable success. He speaks around the world and has been featured by the UN Forum for the importance of entrepreneurship within the local economy.

Don, I’m very pleased to have you with us and a big welcome to you.

Don Green: Thank you, Michael! I’m very pleased to be able to speak to you. I appreciate you reviewing my book and what you have to say about it.

Mike Zipursky: Yeah, definitely.

So Don, we’re going to get into some specific principles and tips that our listeners can apply to become more successful in a few minutes.

But first, I noticed as I read your book, that you made studying other successful people a deliberate part of your life. You haven’t just read a few biographies or a couple of self-help books, you really gotten to it in a very big way and made it – it seems a big part of your life.

I want to ask you, why is it so important to study others the way that you do?

Don Green: Well, I think we learn from others. I remember Queen Elizabeth remarked that even monkeys can learn from other monkeys. And so by studying successful people, we can repeat what they do and also study unsuccessful people and don’t do what they did. We don’t live long enough to make all the mistakes. So we have a chance to learn from other people. You can do a lot by trial and error, but you can also learn a lot from simply repeating what other people has done.

Mike Zipursky: Personally, what do you get out of it? Because reading is one thing, but application is a whole other thing. So in your case from studying all these – I mean, is it hundreds? I’m not sure how many you read, but it seems like quite a few biographies, and you read a lot and studied a lot about successful people. What have you specifically gotten out of it?

Don Green: Well actually, I don’t mean to brag, but I read more than a thousand, and what I got out of it was I learnt to read it and see where can I apply this information to how can this affect me?

We read a lot of material like novels to find out what the story ends in did the boy got the girl or he inherited all the money, but we have to read the end.

But if we’re looking at a biography or a self-help book, if we see these principles, we can basically write our own story. We can write our own ending [02:53] by application. And that’s the secret of it. You can read, and read, and read and read but you should be making notes in the margin, and making notes and going back to them at your…

For example, for a long, long time, I get up in the morning I read 10 pages in Think and Grow Rich. In less than a month, you’ve read the book again. For you, you’ve read it more than a dozen times. And because the first reading, I guess, we learn our ABCs or multiplication table by repeating, so I know by re-reading it, I’ll see stuff.

For example, the story of Three Feet from Gold, when the economy turned down 3-4 years ago I thought “Gosh, that’ll make a good book.” But it’s simply a story on persistence. So that’s how a book got started Three Feet from Gold which is a bestseller and which is still selling well.

Mike Zipursky: Right

Don Green: So we get material if we think and use your imagination that we can use in our own life.

Mike Zipursky: You’ve been very successful. I mean, I mentioned one highlight here that you were the CEO of a bank at the age of 41. But I know from reading your book that you’ve been involved in real estate investing, several other businesses and now with The Napoleon Hill Foundation. So you’ve reached a level of success. I know people define success in different ways in their own lives, but clearly, you’ve been very successful.

So why do you continue to read more about other successful people when you’ve already achieved success?

Don Green: Learning is a lifelong process.

I read one of Peter Lynch’s book on investing. He said “Earn while you learn.” or “Learn while you earn.” or which one you want to say it. So it’s a never-ending process that we pick up.

Someone the other day said something about stock, and I said “I don’t tell people what to invest in.” But if you read the news, you would know AT&T and Verizon practically have all the phones in The United States and they pay excess of a 4% dividend. So you don’t have to be a genius, you either had to pick that up and __[05:12] you had to read it somewhere in order to know facts like that. So I keep on doing it and see what I can learn.

Just like right now what you’re doing, the social media has turned book publishing and so forth completely around and I’m not up on it. I’m trying to learn probably up to 1% or maybe 2%, but I’ve got a lot to learn on the social media as far as doing the work that we want to do with the foundation.

Mike Zipursky: Right. I guess what’s interesting is you could be sitting on a beach right now, Don, probably anywhere in the world, sipping a cold drink and taking in the sunshine but it seems like you’re still very active in business through the foundation giving talks. Why haven’t you just kind of taken the retirement that you deserve?

Don Green: Retirement, I think, is preparing for an early death. I truly __[06:06] every day. I get to travel which is all I do probably if I was so-called ‘retired’. But I’m in California twice this year. I’m going again Saturday. I’ve been to Malaysia three times, and China three times, Germany a couple of times. I’ve traveled a lot in the position I hold.

I would be doing something or another. I’m on the Board of West Virginia [06:33] for 15 years, I guess, and I’m on a hospital board probably for 25 years. I’d still be doing those things as long as my health would allow me to do it.

Michael, I could tell you some stories of some of the young people that work for me. One little young lady works 6 years, she was a Valedictorian high school, she made 1 B in her whole life, and that was in one of her lab class and she just started with a major hospital as a pharmacist. And the satisfaction of that, it’s just kind of hard to explain it. Nothing in it for me except the satisfaction of knowing that you had a little bit – maybe it’s contributed along the way and we have a chance to make a difference in other people’s lives.

And even like the book I wrote. I got one guy who I met and he had bought three copies of the book. And he sent me a money order for $1,000. He said just in appreciation. I had a lady that bought it on Amazon from Oregon who I didn’t know. And she said she was so inspired, she said “I read the book.” and she sent a $500 check. And of course all of that money is for the foundation. There’s nothing in it for me except satisfaction that went to the scholarships that we do for the young people.

Mike Zipursky: That’s great.

Don, I think the so-called self-help industry, in some ways, faces a bit of a stigma. I’ve heard many people talk about all the information being the same and some people call it kind of warm and fuzzy but it’s not accurate (for a lack of a better word). I think when you talk about putting together a treasure map or writing down where you want to be in one year and putting it on your bathroom mirror, that doesn’t jive with everyone.

What would you say to those skeptics?

Don Green: It’s worked for other people. I think one of the ingredients is first was having a purpose – most people are like __[08:40] you’re just wondering. They don’t know if one day or the next, what they really want until they decide what your passion is, what your purpose is and develop a __[08:51], they simply are not going to put the effort out necessary to be successful.

And of course, each one has to determine what our definition of success is and a lot of people will think it’s money. Well, I think if we’re remembered, it’ll be for what we gave and not for what we got because believe me, most people don’t care what kind of car you drive or how much money you got. But if you contributed to mankind in some shape, form or fashion, I think that’s what you’ll be remembered for.

I think there’s times in life where first we go through learning which is continuous and we earn which is continuous. But also, we should be striving, to some point in time, to reach a place where we’re sharing. I think that’s what makes life complete when we’re in a position to share with other people.

Mike Zipursky: Right. And I’ve heard so many successful people say that the most rewarding thing for them or the time where they feel best and that they’ve really achieved the most isn’t when they’re looking at the dollar signs in their bank account or their assets that they’ve accumulated, but really when they’re able to help other people and help build a community or helped others prosper or all that kind of stuff that you’re mentioning right now. I continue to hear that over and over again.

Don Green: Well you talk about the self-help thing, the stigma, I think some of it’s caused by over-zealous promoters. I don’t know about other people, but I’m not impressed with someone who says they’re living in a $5 million house. That may be necessary for some people, but I don’t see the point in telling it to people who are striving to get by. I don’t think it impresses no one. Maybe the speaker himself. Because unless you’re Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, everybody’s got more than you have.

Mike Zipursky: Right

Don Green: I got friends who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but I think they behave real well and they gave back and give back.

This self-help industry, I think, maybe a little bit overdone on some shape, form or fashion like guys doing an info commercial trying to sell Think and Grow Rich for $100 or something because the publishers left out two important pages, which it weren’t by the author anyway, so we put those two pages on free for people when they can buy paperback for $5.95 and we just don’t want to be a part…

Mike Zipursky: Definitely. One thing I really appreciate about your book is that in a lot of books, you dig for those gems. Even if you find a couple in a book, it’s well worth the investment and the time if you can apply those to your own life and to your business.

But in your book which is called Everything I Know About Success I Learned from Napoleon Hill, it was almost every page as I was turning, I was getting some insight or something that made kind of laugh, or smile or think about things in a different way. And you wrote it in such a way that there’s so many stories that it’s very easy to digest. It’s not a dry kind of personal development self-help type of book in any fashion. It really is more of a story –that’s the way I interpreted it or several stories that teach these principles.

With that, what I’d like to do now, Don, is to get into some specific ideas for success from your book, and the first is you said “With discipline, we make our habits then our habits make us.” What do you mean by that?

Don Green: It’s very important – this little book I read which has sold a million copies __[12:48] copyright called Your Greatest Power by a psychologist and we make choices. Each morning, each one of us got up kind of planning at least mentally what we’re going to do for the day and of course that could be getting some drugs or sitting to watch TV all day or we could be planning meetings or going to meet with, what our work’s lined out what phone calls we’re going to make, what interviews you’re going to set up and so forth. Or we could say “Well, I’m on __[13:21] or watch sports programs.” and so forth and so forth. That’s where that comes from is we make our habits and our habits make us.

But the thing of it is, Michael, it doesn’t matter where they’re good habits or bad habits.

I had an uncle one time, they said he was his 80s, he lit up a cigarette in church and that’s when he said it was time to quit because it’s just habit; things you get __[13:46] or I guess the body gives you an urge or __[13:50] and you just reach for that pack and light it up. And that’s what happens with so many people.

I think I told a story of __[14:00] of how he quit smoking. He said he realized waking up at 2 o’clock in the morning to put his clothes on to go out to get cigarettes during a thunderstorm that something said to him “Paul, you don’t have the habit. The habit’s got you.” And he said that’s when he took his clothes off and got back in the bed. He never smoked again.

We don’t realize all…things that we do repeatedly over, and over and over ‘til – I mean I’ve heard people say they can quit smoking or they can quit drinking whatever what, but they tell themselves a thousand times but yet they never get around to doing it.

Mike Zipursky: Right. And so the best way to make that happen – any habit that we want to create in our life what you’re saying is really just to start doing it and repeat it. Make it a habit and that will actually – you’ll get the result that you’re looking for.

Don Green: Well it’s like getting up 30 minutes early, and reading 30 minutes in a good book or reading 30 minutes before you go to bed at night, or taking notes down when you run across ideas and so forth.

I can tell you __[15:07] I wrote out a thing and the next morning I went in the bank, I wasn’t seeking something or another, but I wrote the foundation in Chicago and told them what I was doing. They sent me a letter back and asked me to come and have dinner with the trustees. That turned into the job that I got today and I’ve been doing this for 13 years after 38 years in banking.

Some of those things is a habit may not have immediate results, but somewhere down the line, we get the results of the habits that we’ve involved ourselves in.

Mike Zipursky: Don, in a person’s pursuit of success, how big a factor is fear? I mean, you talked about a study where 60%-70% of the things we all spend time worrying about never happens. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

Don Green: Yeah, it’s not in my book but I remember watching a little piece early one morning. I was watching news and it was a little film clip of this old lady over in Tennessee, and she said that when she worried, she went to the garden with her hoe. And she said when she hoed in her garden, said she couldn’t hoe and worry at the same time. What she probably didn’t realize – but it meant take an action or man is complicated, but it’s also simple. And in fact, it cannot hold positive and negative thoughts at the same time.

I remember our Chairman of the Board was W. Clement [16:45] Stone. I remember him saying that when we have fear, we can’t think it out. We can’t reason it out. But he said we can take action and replace it with – for example: if you’re watching something scary on television, you can cut it off and it will remain in your subconscious, in your mind what you saw on television. All you have to do to get rid of that is not cut the television off, but simply, put it on another channel and watch a Western or watch a sports program or watch something other else.

That’s what he meant was that you can’t sit still and reason in what it is, but you can take action and do something else to replace that fear that you have.

Mike Zipursky: Right. That makes sense. So rather than just kind of letting that negative thought whether it’s fear-related, or otherwise, sit in there, the best way to move around that to get to a place that’s more positive and more beneficial would be to focus on something that is positive; as you’re saying, change the channel per se.

Don Green: Absolutely. Fear either mobilizes us, or freezes, or cause us to move and we’d make the choice which one we want to do, what we’re going to move or just freeze __[18:05] doesn’t have fears, but you can’t just reason them out. You got to do something or another.

Mike Zipursky: Don, you were touching on this a little bit earlier, but one thing I wanted to ask you is that you talk about everyone needing to have a purpose and know what that is in order to be a success in life. I think there’s going to be some people listening today thinking “That sounds great and it makes sense, but I don’t know what my purpose is.” What would you tell them and how can people actually go about finding their purpose?

Don Green: Well I think sometimes they can go back to even their childhood and think of what they enjoy doing. You’ve got to have something that you can enjoy doing. So many people pursue something and another, and they says “I’m going to make a lot of money.” Well, if you have a phobia about blood, you probably wouldn’t make a good nurse. Or if you don’t like personal contact with people, you might not.

So you got to find something or another that you enjoy doing and pursue it because having something that you enjoy doing is where that saying comes in “If you enjoy what you’re doing (just like what you’re doing), you don’t look at it as work.”

Most of the time when we get tired, we’re simply bored. And I realize that some jobs are physical like laying bricks or doing manual labor you can get physically tired. But if you work in an office and you’re tired, more than likely, you’re just mentally bored and not enjoying what you’re doing.

I told someone on success, if you’ve got a purpose or something you develop a passion for, you go to bed with it, and sleep with it, and wake up with it, and have your meals with it and you stick with it. You’re going to be a success. But you got to find out something other than that you’re going to enjoy doing. You might want to play football or basketball and realize you don’t have the physical attributes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a ticket seller. Or if you get enough money like Mark Cuban, you can end up buying a professional team. You can still be associated with it in a different manner.

Mike Zipursky: Right.

Is there any exercise or specific process that you would suggest people follow in order to discover kind of some hints around what their passions might be? I know you said to consider what they were interested in when they’re going back to their childhood or early days, but is there anything else for someone that maybe enjoy playing sports and did a lot of that, but didn’t necessarily continue that for a long time? He doesn’t have a clear idea of what their passion – maybe they’re passionate about their family and they enjoy exercise, but beyond that, if that person doesn’t have a very clear idea what they’re passionate about, what would you suggest that they do?

Don Green: I would think – I have a neighbor who’s pretty well-off and he’s got two kids; one of them in medical school and the other one, a boy. He just actually clean cars and he’s not decided on what he’s going to do. I saw him one day as he’s cleaning the car. I said “You really like it, don’t you?” he said “Yeah” I said “You know, you can make a lot of money doing that.” He said “How?” I said “I know you go to church out there. Just pass the word you’ll detail a car for $100 or what you think it is and the word of mouth will do it.” I said “Because you have to do what you like to do. If it’s involving cars, maybe a car dealership, or sell cars, or repair cars or whatever.”

If you find out the area that you like and if it’s physical exercises, as a guy that owns a Gainesville Fitness Club, he was just absorbed by that __[22:00] Napoleon Hill and he’s got one of the finer health club fitness centers in the country because that was his passion, and he’d read the books and he said “How can I develop this into a business?” and that’s what he’s done. The stories are – there’s a million of them.

I remember Debby Fields of Debby Fields’ Cookies. She loved to make cookies and she didn’t like her mother’s cooking. She had a passion for cooking. And she __[22:28] with the cookie thing until she sold out for a  few million dollars. But the main thing is, she enjoyed what she was doing, and the enjoyment turned into a business. And I think that’s where we got to start from; something that we have a passion, and we enjoy doing and just pursue it.

Mike Zipursky: That’s great advice.

I really liked your writing regarding dealing with failure because you said “Look at each attempt that you complete, not as a failure, but as an education.”

Don, were you always able to look at things like this?

Don Green: Yeah, sometimes it might have lasted for a few minutes, but I learned of being funny, I can remember once – I love art and I bought some art and I did real well, and I thought “God, this is simple.” Buy something rather than me got several hundred times much as back as what I gave it for, and it sold a piece __[23:22] get your name on the catalog…nothing to it.

So I was attending one large event and I shipped about 10 paintings. I had a bunch of Russian art to a major dealer in the Washington D.C. area __[23:35], and I went up and attended the event. This art of mine comes up and starts selling. It starts selling somewhat far lesser than what I gave it for. And I thought  “Oh my god, I didn’t…a contract. I never thought about putting a minimum in or it comes back to him if it doesn’t reach a certain figure.”

At first I didn’t like it for a couple of minutes and I thought “Well you learnt something on this one.” Because all I __[24:00] recognize it that because everything I’d bought in the past and sold, I wasn’t doing it for money, I was just doing it for the enjoyment that I just assumed that anything I sold and I bought, I was going to make a lot of money on it. And here, all of a sudden this Russian art is not happening. And I could have prevented that. And I learnt from it. I still sold stuff, but I would determine I wanted ever how many thousand dollars for it and that will be the minimum selling price. If we didn’t sell it, come back to me. Not only did it sell for less than what I had in it, I had to pay a 15% commission on it which was put in __[24:39].

But it was a lesson. I could have quit dealing art, quit selling anything but it was nobody’s fault but my own. But I said “Well, that’s the lesson.” And that was the only way to look at it because it didn’t mean I quit, it just meant the next time I give a major art auction or my art, I put a minimum on each piece that I wanted to bring. If it don’t, it gets shipped back to me.

That was just a lesson learned because so many people use it as a reason to quit and then they tell themselves “Well, my spouse (or so and so) said it wouldn’t work. I ought to know better and what have you [25:16] rather than sticking with it or changing plans, or go and getting somebody’s assistance that knows what’s involved on the thing.”

He only emphasize that if you have a purpose, make plans. They don’t even have to be really good plans or perfect plans, but you have to have a purpose and a plan and start. You can always – it’s like you and I travelling across the country. We might miss a cutoff on the interstate, but that don’t mean we turn around and go back home. We look and see where we went wrong, and correct our path and keep on going.

Mike Zipursky: Right. Yeah, I think those are some great examples and stories there.

So Don, for my final question for today is that you’ve met with and studied thousands of successful people around the world, and I would imagine that there are some characteristics these people share. Probably others that they don’t.

But if people were only able to choose 2 or 3 characteristics, or ways of living or beliefs, which 2 or 3 would you suggest as being most beneficial in reaching success?

Don Green: I think after having known what you’re going to do is I call it going the extra mile and develop a faith or a belief.

Michael, you’ve heard people say “Well, I’ll believe it when I see it.” Well they got it backwards. You got to see it first. And when I mean see it, that’s with their inner eyes and call it a vision. But it’s seeing it with their inner eyes where we want to be and not where we are today as we think, and see a vision of where we want to be a year or two years or five years. And if we have that vision, and we believe it strong enough, take their plans and we persist and follow them then we will become what our vision was today. And I think that’s very important.

But you can’t get away from the belief system and you can’t get away from going the extra mile because going the extra mile, it separates you from the other people. I said “There’s more room at the top of the ladder and you’re at the bottom because at the bottom, you got all these people just trying to get by and they’re chopping on each other, they’re stepping on each other. But if you do a little bit extra, it’ll separate you from the crowd.

Mike Zipursky: And doing a little bit of extra, what does that usually involve in your mind? I mean, how can people go that little bit of extra? Is that kind of giving above and beyond service, or is that providing more product, or more value? What’s the best way to do that?

Don Green: All of the above. I mean, it applies to simple things like a waiter in a restaurant just noticing the little things. Is the customer’s glass empty? You shouldn’t have to track someone down to have his drink refilled and provide them napkins. You’re going back and checking on the table and says “Everything okay? Anything I can get you?” and so forth. It’s the little bitty things but they add up over a period of time.

I had one of my mentors tell me that doing little bit extra one day, nobody will probably notice. You may do it for a week and nobody notice it. But he said “If you do it over a lifetime, you’ll be the success that most people are only going to dream about.”

Mike Zipursky: Right. Well said.

Well, Don, thank you so much for doing this getting on the call today and being on the show. I really do appreciate it. It’s been great speaking with you. Your book, Everything I Know About Success I Learned From Napoleon Hill was one of the best reads I’ve had in a while. I would highly recommend it to everyone because there’s so many lessons within this that I think everyone can benefit from in one way or another.

So again, thank you.

Don Green: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate you very much. If I can ever help you out, please let me know.

Mike Zipursky: Will do. Thanks, Don.


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7 thoughts on “Napoleon Hill’s Secrets: The True Keys to Success with Don Green

  1. Ben says:

    Being an avid reader I am very appreciative of the amount of knowledge that is shared out there on running a successful business. My biggest wish most days is to have the power to incorporate what I have learned into the business where I work. I guess you could call that lack of management buy-in. I find it very sad considering the lack of financial stability of this business. I hope I still have a job next week.


    • Ben – try the kaizen approach of taking small steps and gradual improvements. It adds up to big change. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Jenna says:

    Wow, this is such a powerful interview. Really great lessons, thank you for sharing this!!!

  3. Linda Fadzil says:

    Thank you for good information sharing in this article

  4. ameleah says:

    Thanks such a powerful insight for those yearning to grow.

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