The Acorn Principle: The seed of your future success already lives within you

(with Jim Cathcart)

The Acorn Principle: The seed of your future success already lives within you


Jim Cathcart is the author of 20 books, including The Acorn Principle and Relationship Selling, which are both international bestsellers. His TEDx talk “How to Believe in Yourself” is in the top 1% of all TEDx talks with more than 2 million views. Jim was inducted into the Professional Speaker Hall of Fame and the Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame. He’s a university professor, teaching in an executive MBA program.

In today’s episode, Jim and I will discuss his journey to become a wildly successful speaker. Jim will also teach us the acorn principle. “The seed of your future successes already lives within you. . . .”

Jim’s Passions and Advice About Speaking

Jim is passionate about many things—homemade ice cream, barbecue, fitness, and music among them—but he also loves helping people succeed. When someone says to him, “You’re just a speaker because you love the applause,” he says, “No; the applause is just a sign that it went well.”

Jim loves when a person walks out of one of his speeches or seminars and thinks, “Wow, I never thought about it like that before; that makes perfect sense. I can do that.” Often people send him a note a few months later, saying it worked. He loves when he can help people.

Jim said the key to good speaking is audience improvement. His advice for someone who’s nervous about speaking is to change their point of view. “Stop thinking about you, and think about the audience. Start thinking about how your message is going to help them, and help them understand it. Then you won’t be nervous about giving your speech,” he said.

Thinking about the audience will shift our point of view and can relieve our nerves, and we’ll likely give a better speech because we’re trying to help them.

Jim’s Entrepreneurial Journey 

Jim grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father was a telephone repairman, who often had to be on the road, and his mother had her hands full taking care of Jim, his sister, and his grandfather. Growing up, there weren’t any high expectations for him. Jim thought he would be a good person, get decent grades in school, get a job, and live a pleasant but ordinary life.

By 23 years old, Jim was married and had a new baby at home. He was working a dead-end job as an assistant for someone who didn’t need one. He’d dropped out of college, he’d had about every job imaginable, he was overweight and smoking two packs a day, and he was bored to tears because his boss didn’t need him. 

One day at work while Jim listened to the radio, a five-minute, motivational show called Our Changing World with Earl Nightingale came on. Jim heard Earl say, “If you will spend one extra hour every day studying your chosen field, in five years or less, you’ll be a leading authority in that field.” Jim did the math and figured that would be 1250 hours.

He asked himself, “What do I want to be an expert at?” He didn’t want to be an expert in urban renewal, his current job. A week or two later, it occurred to him that he wanted to do what Earl Nightingale was doing: personal development and applied behavioral science. Jim didn’t have any experience in the field, but he did have plenty of time at his job. 

He became a fanatic, reading every book he could find, listening to audio recordings, going to whatever seminar he could find. For the next several years it was all he wanted to talk about, all he wanted to think about. As he studied, his mindset changed, and he got better at his job and received many promotions. Eventually, he had the chance to move into the field of training and development, and after a few years, became a full-time speaker and trainer.

Jim wrote a book with Tony Alessandra, and they formed a corporation together. One day, Jim sat at the desk, and the phone rang. It was Earl Nightingale, the man from the radio. Earl told him he’d just read an article of Jim’s and thought it would make a great audio album. 

Jim sent Earl his and Tony’s audio program. Earl liked it, so they published this program called Relationship Strategies for Dealing with the Differences in People, the first widely published audio program on personality types. In the next two years, it made $3.5 million and led to speaking engagements all over the world.

If you will_Blog

Jim progressed in his career, becoming president of the National Speakers Association. Jim called Earl, asking him to join him speaking at a convention on the evolution of the personal development industry. Earl said he would consider it. Unfortunately, Earl passed away before it could happen. They decided to do a memorial at the convention. Earl’s wife asked Jim to speak. He didn’t feel like he was worthy, but Earl’s wife told him, “Jim, you are the product of what he was teaching. That’s why you should speak at his memorial service.”

He and Earl’s wife were the only speakers at the memorial. Jim is truly a testament to the principles he and Earl taught. He went from a clerk to a worldwide speaker and author of 20 books using the principles he and Earl taught.

The Acorn Principle

Jim’s book The Acorn Principle dives into many subjects such as the reader’s type of intellect, their personality, their personal velocity, the values that motivate them, along the acorn principle itself.

“The acorn principle is, the seed of your future successes already lives within you. . . . An acorn is the universal symbol of potential,” Jim said. He explained that an acorn has three parts: the stem, the cap, and the seed.

The stem represents the legacy between us and all the people in our line that have ever existed. Their DNA imprint has been passed along the chain to us, and we carry it with us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—it’s all part of who we are genetically.

The cap represents all the guides and mentors we have in our lives: our parents, teachers, role models, coaches, heroes, and mentors. They have also had an impact on us.

The seed represents the potential that lives within us. Jim said, “An acorn will never be a racehorse. It’ll never be cedar or pine, it will only be an oak tree. But whether it’s a wonderful mighty oak or whether it’s a little scrub oak . . . depends on what happens with that acorn.”

Every one of_Blog

Unlike an actual acorn, we can choose what we do with our seed. The seed that’s within us is destined to be exceptionally impressive at something, or multiple things, but not everything. We may not have the talent to play basketball like Michael Jordan, but everyone has a unique potential. “Every one of us has a gift in that seed, waiting for us to give it the opportunity and the attention so that it can grow fully into what it’s capable of,” Jim said.

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Jim for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. Thinking about how we can help our audience will shift our point of view, relieving our nerves, and we’ll likely give a better speech because we’re trying to help them.

2. If we spend one extra hour every day studying our chosen field, we can become a leading authority in that field in five years or less.

3. We all have the potential inside of us to become something great, like a mighty oak tree. If we effectively nurture our potential, we will grow into something exceptional.

Connect with Jim

To learn more about or connect with Jim:

-Connect on LinkedIn

Visit his website at 

-Check out his book The Acorn Principle

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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