Preface: Does it make sense to do more than we are paid for? Napoleon Hill says yes, that the habit of doing more than we are paid for is key to our personal achievement and success.

This post continues the series on Napoleon Hill’s application of the Law of Attraction as explained in his 1928 book, Law of Success. The book provides fundamentals for achieving success for those who enact them. Hill developed his compendium of traits (with the help of Andrew Carnegie) based on interviews with over 500 successful men and women of the time.  In these posts, I discuss how Hill’s theory – and the Law of Attraction – is supported by behavioral science theories. For prior posts in this series, click here and here.

Why bother doing more than is paid for?

As Hill explains it, the habit of doing more than is paid for leads to success because of the Law of Increasing Returns. Here’s how he describes it:

“The farmer carefully prepares the ground, then sows his wheat and waits while the Law of Increasing Returns brings back the seed he has sown, plus a many-fold increase” (p 677).

To understand what he is saying, let’s first imagine this farmer who plants with faith and willingness to put forth his best effort even though the future reward may be uncertain considering market forces, natural disasters, and the like. He has the thought of success and he takes action to bring this thought to fruition despite the uncertainty and possible hazards.

Now contrast that farmer with someone whom Hill refers to as “the very lowly bred type of humanity.” As Hill explains it, such a person may have this mental attitude: “I am not paid to do this and I’ll be blanket-blankety-blank if I’ll do it!” (p. 688). This farmer has the thought of success, but refuses to take any action unless the reward is visible and certain.

According to Hill, the first farmer may expect to reap the benefits of the Law of Increasing Returns-–either in the fruitful harvest or in another unexpected way —while the second will suffer the penalty of its absence.

How does the Law of Increasing Returns Work?

In explaining his own experiences with the Law of Increasing Returns, Hill relays a charming tale. He was invited to give a lecture before the Palmer School in Iowa for a fee of $100 (remember, this is prior to 1928). When he arrived, he was given a warm reception and met “many delightful people” from whom he “gathered many valuable facts that were of benefit” to him. When he was asked to submit his bill, he declined saying that he had received his pay “many times over” because of what he had learned while at the school. He returned to his office in Chicago feeling well paid.

The next morning, the head of the school went before the 2000 students and told them that this was the first time he had ever known a speaker to decline a fee because he had been paid in other ways. He then added, “This man is the editor of a national magazine and I advise every one of you to subscribe to that magazine, because such a man as this must have much that each of you will need when you go into the field and offer your services” (p 694).

By the middle of the week, Hill had received more than $6000 in subscriptions to the magazine and within two years the students and their friends had sent in more than $50,000. Instead of a $100 fee, he received $50,000 in subscriptions. Quite an unexpected bonanza and a clear manifestation of the law of increasing returns!

How do the Behavioral Sciences explain this?

In a nutshell, Hill’s results may be anticipated by what most of us know intuitively -– people want to give back to those who give to them. Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State, refers to this as the principle of reciprocity. According to his numerous studies, the principle of reciprocity holds true across all cultures in the world. From earliest age, children around the world are taught to not take without giving back in return.

Cialdini is an expert on persuasion and author of the acclaimed book, Influence: Science and Practice. His studies have suggested that a gift especially memorable if it is meaningful, tailored to the person, and unexpected.

Hill’s gift to the school (in the form of refusing the fee) met all three requirements. It was meaningful– he school expected to pay a fee for Hill’s services and suddenly didn’t have to. It was tailored to the person – or in this case the institution– waiver of the fee was offered to that school specifically. It was unexpected–the headmaster had no idea that the fee would be waived.

Small wonder, then, that the headmaster sought to pay Hill back by encouraging every student to subscribe to Hill’s magazine. And, he could do so with full confidence that the magazine would be worthwhile because Hill’s extraordinary gift signaled that he was an extraordinary man, dedicated to service and learning.

In the next post, I will describe an incident in which I inadvertently applied the same principle.

Meanwhile, what do you think of the Law of Increasing Returns? Have you ever given more than someone expected and reaped rewards as a result?


  1. For an excellent summary of the principle of reciprocity, click here
  2. Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: science and practice (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.
  3. Hill, N. (1928). The law of success, in sixteen lessons, teaching, for the first time in the history of the world, the true philosophy upon which all personal success is built. Meriden, Conn.: The Ralston university press.

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