31 causes of failure #1: unfavorable hereditary background

This week I’m going to start another series. These will be posts based on Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. If you’ve been reading Brip Blap you know that this book is a major source of inspiration for me. If you are put off by the title of the book, or the general concept of “financial self-improvement,” this book may not be for you. However, I think there is a lot to be learned from Hill’s book. He based it on some serious research – it is not just his opinion.

Hill published his book in 1937. The inspiration came from several conversations with Andrew Carnegie, who at the time was one of the richest men in American history. The source of Think and Grow Rich was The Law of Success, which Hill wrote after spending twenty years studying the lives and behaviors of more than 40 extremely wealthy individuals. The people he studied had all achieved the great wealth in their own lifetimes, and were not inheritors of wealth.

This book is still today one of the cornerstones of the “financial self-improvement” sphere. It has been the inspiration for many subsequent books. One of the lists in his book is “thirty one causes of failure.” This list seems to me to be one of the best lists in his book, because it provides a useful tool for self-analysis. I have read and re-read the list, and I decided to write on this subject. Each week on Fridays I’m going to highlight an item in the list and talk a little about what it means and how you can overcome it before it causes YOU to fail.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Crossing Sparks

The First Cause of Failure: Unfavorable hereditary background

Hill says that this is the only cause of failure which is difficult for an individual to overcome on his own. He gently refers to it as a “deficiency in brain power,” or what a less polite person might call “not smartness.” Hill ‘s only solution is the use of the Master Mind, which I have written about before.

But I feel that Hill passes over this point too quickly. How do you define a “deficiency in brain power?” You can be illiterate but quite intelligent, and you can be highly educated but make poor decisions. Which one is truly stupid? I would argue that almost anyone who might be classified as being deficient in brain power has talents and abilities he or she can bring to wealth building. The only way that deficiency can truly cause failure is if the person is deficient in courage. Look at dyslexic Richard Branson, who was perceived as “stupid” because of a learning disability, and has proved himself anything but. Think of the almost completely uneducated Henry Ford. Nobody would call them deficient in brain power today, but each was probably assessed as “less than average intelligence” due to their learning disabilities or lack of education.

I am sure each of us knows someone who we secretly think of as less intelligent than ourselves, yet is more successful at building wealth. Are the wealthiest people you know also the smartest? Often they are, but sometimes they aren’t. I am sure you know someone who is slower at processing information than most people who is quite successful at what they do. And I’ll be brutal – most of us know someone who is stupid who actually does quite well for themselves – probably better than some “smart” person we know who makes terrible money mistakes.

Chances are good that you are not the smartest person in the history of mankind. Chances are good that you aren’t even the smartest person you know – but there is no cutoff on the IQ scale where success suddenly becomes impossible, and there is no minimum above which success is guaranteed. Unfavorable hereditary background is a cause of failure only if you allow it to be. Believing that you are smart enough to accomplish the task at hand is often much more important than actually being smart enough.


  • Think and Grow Rich: Please note that this link, and the link to the Law of Success below, are Amazon associate links. I plan to offer free e-book versions of both in the next week or two, since they are in the public domain. But I do recommend thinking about buying a copy that you can actually keep with you rather than just using an e-book. But if you prefer not to pay for it, there are many places you can get the complete text for free.
  • The Law of Success
  • IQ and wealth – a previous post on this topic