Success Adores The Positive Attitude

( Originally Published 1950 )

THAT GLAMOUR GIRL of all careers—Success—has ever lavished her desirable charms on those who deliberately or instinctively have adopted the positive attitude. Success abhors the negative. Failure, however, with a natural affinity for the negative folk, has marked them for her very own.

Eliminating the sinecures of nepotism that have existed through the centuries, the positive men and women get the best positions almost always. Then, on the job, they get the best promotions and pay; or they graduate from the payroll and most effectively establish their own businesses.

Why is this so?

Because positive folk know what they want.

Because they prepare themselves to earn what they want.

Because they ask for what they want and take positive action to get it.

Because, if for reasons beyond their control they don't get what they deserve, they take positive steps to shape their careers so they do get their due in some other and more satisfactory situation.

The negatives of life get the leavings.

Why is this so?

Because the negative attitude holds them in thralldom. Oh, certainly, they get meal-ticket jobs. They are just positive enough to sustain life in a meager way, but there they rest content—or perhaps discontent. They mark time waiting for the passage of a year on the job to bring a possible arbitrary raise. Or they wait for their very positive leaders to negotiate a raise for them. Of course, it must be admitted that in a way the negative folk really get what they want—the leavings.

It isn't simply a theory that the negative attitude holds employees back. It is a fact, established by carefully conducted researches, that only 10 or 15 per cent of employees even want to be promoted. Investigation reveals this is due to a negative fear that they wouldn't make good and a negative distaste for responsibility. In my book, Make the Most of Your Life, are detailed studies showing that factors within the control of almost anyone are chiefly responsible for the failures in business—negative factors of personality and attitude with which negative-minded persons are enslaved.

Here are some of the negative red lights which it behooves anyone to observe carefully unless he is willing to settle for failure. These red lights have been observed by executives and personnel people in a wide range of activities. Some of these lights are pointed out by individuals who have examined themselves and noted their weaknesses—but even then were so enmeshed in the negative viewpoint they didn't stir themselves out of their ruts.

The red lights that halt careers: Noncooperation, plain ordinary mulishness Absenteeism, just can't be bothered being on the job Troublemaking, vicious gossip, stupid obstruction Carelessness


Plain loafing

Too easygoing

Quick temper and generally poor self-control

Vagueness of objective

Too impulsive, tending to jump before looking

Failure to follow through with duties


Unduly sensitive

Very easily discouraged Tactless

Lacking in confidence

Little pride in work or accomplishment

Too critical


Easily swayed

Talks too much or too little

Little or no initiative

Little or no enthusiasm

Surveys of many thousands of employees show that only a tiny per cent of those who are discharged and only a very small per cent of those who fail to attain advancement are handicapped by lack of an adequate initial working skill. They are fired and halted early in their careers because of one or more of the negative characteristics noted above. Countless thousands would avoid being discharged and would advance in their jobs if they were only willing to adopt a more positive attitude.

New York University recently published a booklet that undertakes to give young people an understanding of the qualifications demanded in the business world, the preparation needed, and the fields open to them. Four necessary qualifications, all of which can be acquired, are ability to get along with others, industry, willingness to accept responsibility, and alertness.

All four of these qualifications are necessary, however. Two or three of them are not enough. Some years ago I analyzed a failing business that was under the operating management of one of the most lovable personalities I have ever encountered. He got along famously with people, and there are studies that show that some 85 per cent of success is due to personality qualities and 15 per cent to ability. This man rated almost 100 per cent on personality and almost zero on ability. He proved to be a failure. There are many like the personality boy who is tops in personality and ability to get along with others. He has the requisite industry if you misinterpret activity for industry. He not only accepts responsibility; he makes claims to greater responsibility than he can possibly handle, to the point where the office girls laugh at his arrogation. He appears to be Johnny on the spot in the realm of alertness but is not alert enough to do well the clerical duties assigned to him.

The qualifications listed are all positive, and yet they are too frequently traded for negative attitudes. As an executive I have frequently had the experience of flat refusal of assistants to take over full responsibility of a department with much better pay. It is a common experience in almost any office that minor employees will shy away from advanced training that would qualify them for more valuable jobs.

The records of every profession and industry are filled with real-life illustrations of the positive attitude at work.

There is the instance of a seventeen-year-old lad named Ernest E. Norris who had to quit school and go to work. He wanted to get into railroading. He decided that the best way open to him was to learn telegraphy. He persuaded a telegrapher to teach him the Morse code and the details of the work. He read newspapers, watching for an opening. He noted the suicide of a telegraph operator at Arlington Heights, Illinois. Young Norris wrote to the station agent, asking for the job, and got it. He got it because he had prepared himself for it. Using the same positive attitude, he became president of the Southern Railway System.

When a financial panic ruined his father's business, Charles R. Hook got a job as an office boy at $12 a week. He took correspondence courses in engineering. He got a job working in a rolling mill and stayed after hours to learn all phases of the operation he could absorb. He absorbed plenty. He became chairman of the board of Armco Steel Company.

William A. Patterson had to leave school when he was only fifteen. He got a job with the Wells Fargo Express Company at $25 per month. He was a positive-minded kid. He went to night school for thirteen years. He became paying teller and then vice-president and then president of the United Air Lines.

A fifteen-year-old lad named David Sarnoff had to work to help his widowed mother. He bought a code book for two dollars and acquired a telegraph key and practiced in his room during his spare time. He carried a dictionary to learn the meaning of words. He educated himself and became head of the vast Radio Corporation of America.

At the age of twelve, a New York lad took a $3-a-week office boy's job to help support his mother. The job was with the Sprague Works of General Electric Co., which was then only seven years old. The kid went to night school. Later he took correspondence courses that gave him the equivalent of a technical college education. This positive-minded youth made himself president of General Electric, which provides jobs for 200,000 and digs up dividends for 250,000 stockholders. His name is Charles E. Wilson.

Mr. Wilson observes, with a genial smile, "People who fail to achieve what they want in life don't want it badly enough to do the hard work. There just ain't no golden chariot to take them there."

The pseudo sophisticate says, "All that is Horatio Alger stuff—it's outdated." Outdated? The Horatio Alger stuff is working steadily today in every walk of life just as positively as ever. And, anyway, what's wrong with the principle of strive and succeed, the principle that underlies all progress ever achieved in America?

The foregoing illustrations of the positive attitude at work are selected deliberately from the experience of a multitude of individuals who without the great benefits of college education have reached a point where they have virtually armies of college graduates subordinate to them. They will have more such subordinates in the future if we are to accept the Fortune poll of the graduating class of 1949, which will eventually be recognized as the most significant story of that year—more important even than the story of the Russian mastery of atomic explosion.

That portentous Fortune survey revealed that 1,200 colleges had graduated 150,000 men, 70 per cent of them veterans, 30 per cent of them married, and 98 per cent of them afraid to venture, obsessed with a yearning , for "security," but lacking the conviction that the only dependable security is that which they can develop within themselves.

These men, a majority of whom have been in uniform, and many of whom courageously faced tanks and machine guns, made it perfectly clear in the Fortune survey that there is one thing they definitely do not want. They don't want and don't intend to take a chance. Only 2 per cent of these seniors from whom tomorrow's leaders should come have any intention of going into business for themselves. They want jobs with big corporations and the promise of a pension at the end of the line. There was a dearth of evidence that this great group going into big business has any idea of using that experience for a later venture of their own.

There are students who believe that this lack of enterprise is due to the fact that these men were first rocked in the cradle of the home, later spent years in service, where they were told what to eat and wear and when to get up in the morning, and then were handed college educations on a platter. They have come to like too well being provided for by others. They love the cradle.

They are going to make the plums of the future easy picking for the minority who fully develop their own positive attitude of mind.

What does the general who commanded 70 per cent of these graduates think of "safety-first" dreams of security? General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower told us what he thinks about it when he addressed an incoming class of students at Columbia University.

"In these days and times when we hear so much of security," said the general, "security for everything we do, to make sure that we shall never be cold or out in the rain or never be hungry I must tell you that you have come to the wrong place if you are seeking complete fulfillment of any ambition that deals with perfect security. In fact, I am quite certain that the human being could not continue to exist if he had perfect security. Life is certainly worth while only as it calls for struggle for worthy causes, and there is no struggle in perfect security.

"I hope that by the end of the year and by the end of your course the word 'opportunity' will be one that you will nail to the masthead of your lifetime flag and follow it forever."

Another fine mind of the day that believes there is an overemphasis on security to the point of disaster is Dr. Vannevar Bush, wartime head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.

"There is no such thing as absolute security," Dr. Bush declares. "In this uncertain and complex world there is no workable security without the willingness and courage to take risks.

"We can hope to protect ourselves only if our people maintain and develop their imagination and initiative and are willing and able to take chances."

How now, class of 1949? Where are the positive willingness and courage to take risks? But these college boys are not alone. Clifford Jurgensen of the Minneapolis Gas Company analyzed 3,723 applications for jobs and found that of ten items the applicants ranked job security at the top of the list. Not pay. Not chance to achieve.

But security! Of course it would be stupid not to want a measure of security, but when that desire is wrapped up with negative and passive attitudes, the spirit of a man or woman is in hobbles and attainment is made more difficult.

True, the records of failure in new business are appalling, but they have always been discouraging. Obviously all people cannot very well go into their own enterprises, or the great corporations would be stripped. But the contention is that the basic attitude of the class of 1949 is negative and shocking; and unless there is a change to positive thinking, a great mass of these prime young men are going to be caught in the backwash of business and industry. And a few years hence they will regret deeply their "sure-thing" attitude that kept them out of preparation for their own projects and also kept them from the advancement that could be theirs with a more positive approach.

Contrast the sure-thing, security-first approach with Elmer Wheeler's story of three young men who first met during the war when they worked on the atomic project at Pasco, Washington. "When their job there was finished," says Wheeler, "they started some 'chain reaction thinking' that has made them successful businessmen.

"Tony Rupert had studied Business Administration at the University of Minnesota. John Raby had been a millwright and had had experience with machines and tools. Herb Osborn had had experience in machine shops and had been supervisor of the machine shop at the atomic project.

"The time came when their job was completed for the government, and like thousands of others they asked themselves, 'What'll I do now?' First they did some thinking. Because of their individual experience and skills, the three were ideally suited to operate a machine and tool business of their own. Many people go this far. But these fellows went further. They had the courage, and the faith in our system of business, to take the plunge. They had little money, so they built their shop themselves. They've had their ups and downs. But persistence has seen them through. In addition to a flourishing shop business they manufacture and sell an all-welded house trailer that is getting quite a reputation on the West Coast. Their success secrets are good ones. They didn't rush in blindly. First they sized themselves up, 'evaluated' the situation, and deliberated carefully as to what they could do best. But they didn't stop with planning, either. Once they had their plan—they began immediately putting it into action—in the best way they could at the time, not waiting for conditions to be 'just right.' "

It is not the fault of the "times," it's not lack of capital, it's not lack of an arm or leg or eye or college degree—it is primarily the lack of the positive attitude that makes career cripples. The three men who made the trailer had positive minds and followed the positive technique to establish themselves in business. If they had been negative, they could have dreamed up a score of negative reasons as to why they shouldn't and couldn't and wouldn't have a chance. They would never have got started. It was ever thus. The best fruits are labeled for the positive only. The culls are marked for the negative.

In a recent discussion, a negative neighbor expounded at length on the impossibility of anyone in these times having a chance as of old to establish a business without a large amount of capital. He held forth on the fact that, despite lip service to the contrary, the government makes it exceedingly difficult for a small business to get on its feet and then takes huge bites out of the winnings if the business does weather the "times." He held forth for an hour explaining how small business can't be established today without large capital and doesn't have a chance to become big business any more. Many of his statements were true enough of today, just as they would have been true a hundred years ago. It is more difficult to make headway today, but it is not impossible. The positive mind takes the negative factors into consideration, but it stresses the positive factors and, with the strength of the positive approach, overcomes the negatives.

Watch the positive approach at work with Richard Noison Harris. He was graduated from Yale in 1936—scarcely the old days. Harris could have taken the easy way of nepotism and taken a good job in his father's woolen business. But he had a positive trend of mind and preferred to prove that he could stand on his own feet without benefit of his papa's payroll.

With the small sum of $5,000, which he borrowed, he purchased a beauty-supply business in Cleveland. He noted that permanent waves required very expensive machinery and high costs to the customers. He set to work to develop a home system whereby women could wave their hair at a huge saving. There were many others trying to do the same thing without any great success, but that didn't knock the positive out of Harris. He produced a 25-cent home wave kit, but it didn't move from the counters very well, and so he improved the kit and the package and increased the price to a figure that still permitted a woman to make a great saving. Now the negative individual would say you couldn't put that over without heavy financing. But in 1944 with just $50 ( yes, fifty) for test cooperative advertising the Toni Home Permanent was offered to the public. You know about it. Which girl has the Toni? You might also ask which man has the positive attitude. Millions of women decided that they would be the ones with the Toni. In four years Harris sold his company to the Gillette Safety Razor Company for $20,000,000.

The Toni incident is spectacular, but it is current, and to a lesser extent other businesses are being founded every month by men and women who know that success adores the positive attitude. In little more than a decade this author has been involved in establishing a half-dozen successful business enterprises—all of them with shoestring financing—and he knows of many who have done the same. For instance, there is Carl F. Morlet who, as a junior executive in an Atlanta bank, decided there should be a better rack for booklets displayed on the counters. He developed an adjustable plastic rack that captured the fancy of other bankers, and within two years Morlet was engaged in his profitable business, supplying the demand.

For many years it has been part of my business to indulge in the fascinating analysis of businesses and the personalities who operate them. Without one single exception, successful business results from the power released by the positive attitude of mind. With scarcely a single exception the failures analyzed have been dominated by the negative attitude. I have yet to find an outstandingly successful individual who has the negative outlook. I have yet to find a failure who had positive qualities overweighing the negative. I have yet to find even one top executive or personnel man or woman who doesn't agree with these findings.

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