Born into a poor family, John Wanamaker started work at the age of seven, helping his father in a brickyard. After his father passed away when he was 14, John went to work at a bookstore in Philadelphia and all the money he saved went to his mother. John was exceptional as a boy when it came to studying and business and soon got a job at the Town Hall clothing store. He was always the first one to arrive each day and often the last one to leave.

The world is a complex place we call home. The more you understand yourself and your environment – what you excel in, what you enjoy and what the world needs – the closer you get to living a life with purpose. Learning is the essential first step that can be followed by thinking and then doing. Learning allows us to acquire knowledge which over time turns into wisdom. Leaning gives us an advantage in the world over others. The process of learning should not stop after formal education. As Leonardo Da Vinci said “Learning never exhausts the mind.”.

Jacob Gould Schurman was a self-made-man whose career began at ten years of age working for his father on the family farm on Prince Edward Island in what is now Canada. Unlike many self-made-men, Schurman decided success to him was increasing his intellect rather than increasing his wealth and his aspirations enabled him to become a University President and a United States diplomat.

In 1893, Mary Proctor gave her first talk on astronomy. She had her doubts as to whether she would interest the audience but she overcame those doubts by testing herself and doing it anyway. She went on to do over 400 lectures. What are her secrets to success when talking to an audience?

Philip Danforth Armour began life growing up on a farm in New York. His parents were of Scottish and English ancestry and he was brought up in a strict sense. His father had plenty of work for him on the farm, while his mother made sure he stayed in school. In 1849 at the age of 17, Armour was still working on the farm when he began to hear tales of the Californian Gold Rush. He and a friend decided to travel across the country in search of this different work. They took the railroad as far as it would take them and walked the rest.

Miss Helen Gould lived in a large country house overlooking the Hudson River. Despite being wealthy and upper class you would not know from her appearance as she wore simple clothes, not over-dressed but elegant. Gould had a modest but ambitious character. Her ambition was to leave an impression on the world by way of doing good deeds. Her name is associated with charity throughout the United States.

He is most known for his pioneering work on developing the telephone, but Alexander Graham Bell’s interest in transmitting speech led him to experimenting with communication and medical research. He also worked on techniques to teach speech to deaf people and worked with Helen Keller among others. In addition to being an inventor and scientist, Bell was a founding member of the National Geographic Society and was president of the institution for eight years.

The entrepreneur and self-made millionaire from the 19th century Marshall Field, is perhaps best known for creating the modern department store as we now know it. He helped turn Chicago from a small town into a major city and his single store turned into a large chain. The famous London-based department store, Selfridges, was founded and led by a former employee of Marshall Field’s after working under him for 25 years. Field has much to teach us about success.

Soon after returning to Venice, Marco Polo was captured during a sea battle with the Republic of Genoa. In jail at the age of 44, he began to recount his tales to a cellmate. Polo detailed his epic journey across Asia and his stories and adventures from his time as a personal aid to Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China. The resulting book became an inspiration to many other subsequent explorers. There is much to learn from the observations, behaviour and perceptions from the travels of Marco Polo.

Today, I’ll be reviewing Scott Berkun’s latest book, The Dance of the Possible, showing you how to foster your creativity, be more productive and inspire you to get up and make stuff.