Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life

Donald Trump is all about unlikely success. His glittering urban towers, undulating golf courses, opulently outfitted wives (two former and one current, a fashion model), and prolonged reality TV moment serve as ongoing evidence that his boundless self-confidence can turn seemingly impossible dreams into reality. Now, with his new book Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life, written with Meredith McIver, the real estate tycoon and TV star generously fills us in on the secrets of his success — and explains how we, too, can prevail in our career endeavors.

Turns out Trump’s power is not in his hair (if that is his hair), but in his mind. “Champions are born and champions are made,” he writes. “Champions think big. Champions work in a big-time way. Champions are focused. Champions are disciplined. Come to think of it, champions think like champions.”

Yes, the book is filled with circular head-scratchers like that. But as anyone who has tuned into The Apprentice week after week to watch Trump preen and pontificate before his assembled eager acolytes can tell you, there’s something strangely compelling about the Donald’s business platitudes. And Think Like a Champion provides ample opportunity to take them in and mull them over.

Each pithy chapter begins with a quote from a famous thinker (Eleanor Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, Henry Ford, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Alberts Schweitzer and Einstein: Trump’s Bartlett’s must be in tatters!), which the author briefly explores — summoning examples from his own life — before wrapping things up with a chunk of “go out there and get ’em” advice. The result is one part Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey, one part self-help book, and one part Trump infomercial.

For instance,Trump begins an essay entitled “Confronting Your Fears” with a double epigraph: one from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world,” and one from Carl Jung, “To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem.” These he follows up with a personal anecdote: “Recently, an interviewer asked me what my greatest fears were. I said I didn’t have any. He seemed surprised, but this is how I see it: If you label something a fear, then it creates fear when sometimes it’s not a fear but a concern.? The same applies to business.”

The experience Trump draws on to illustrate the principle is to the point — and distinctly his own.

When I began to construct Trump Tower, for example, I had several things in mind that I knew I wanted. I wanted a certain kind of marble called Breccia Perniche, which was expensive, beautiful, and rare. It was also irregular and had white spots and white veins, which bothered me, so I went to the quarry itself and marked off the best slabs with black tape. Action turned this concern into a problem solved. I got exactly the marble pieces I wanted, and sitting around worrying about whether those pieces would be right or wrong was getting me nowhere. As a result of deciding to go to the quarry myself, the pieces of this puzzle fell into place and the finished product was perfect.

Perfect! To be sure, no one’s ever accused Donald J. Trump of being a shrinking violet or of hiding his light — no matter how strong or dim you consider it to be — under a bushel. Trump encourages us all to be just as self-confident and self-promoting as he. “It’s very important to be your own best friend,” he maintains, citing Mark Twain’s advice to “be comfortable with your own approval.” “Think about it: If you can’t say great things about yourself, who do you think will? So don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when you’ve done something worth tooting about.”

It is with just such brass-band subtlety that Trump fills us in on the impressiveness of his TV success, the groundbreaking nature of his buildings, the astounding superiority of his golf courses, his fantastic ability to surround himself with only the best people, his business prescience. And while he considers himself a genius (“Someone asked me if I thought I was a genius. I decided to say yes. Why not?”), he’d also like us to know that “the surprising thing is that I’m more humble than people might think.”

But here’s the thing. Even as we roll our eyes and smirk, somehow, in his blustery way, Trump manages to charm us. Maybe it’s because his belief in himself seems to bleed into a belief in us, we who are smart enough to read his book, to recognize his genius, to sit at his knee — or, better image, across the boardroom table — and listen to him hold forth on all he’s learned. Because we believe in him (he assumes), Trump is willing to believe in us. And if his rather pallid advice is not exactly inspiring, cumulatively, it is unexpectedly?comforting.

A question I would ask you to ask yourself to give you a jump-start in thinking big is this: What is your creative capital? What do you have to offer? What have you acquired in your experience and in your studies that makes you valuable? Are you aware of your own potential? Will you be equipped to make a difference when the time comes for you to step forward? Start thinking along those lines and your worth will have already been multiplied.

I think big, and you can do the same. Just focus on your own standards, your own potential, and tenaciously stay with them. You will be defining yourself and your future success in the process.

Yes, it’s generic. Yes, it’s hokey. Yes, it’s oh so Norman Vincent Peale. (Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking is on Trump’s “Recommended Reading” list.) But, so what? Look what completely outsized self-confidence and self-promotion have done for Trump, who is no great intellect and certainly no great beauty. And these days, when the business news is one big bummer, with careers and companies careening off the tracks (including Trump Entertainment Resorts, which has for the third time filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a fact not mentioned in the book), and the global recession beckoning us all toward personal depression, maybe we could all use a little of the power of Trumpative thinking.