Forget Resolutions: Here’s Your Roadmap To Success

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Times change, and people change with them – or do they?

A century ago, the National Cash Register Company published this cleverly illustrated guide to help its employees navigate the Road To Success. I discovered this map while reading Ken Jennings’s book Maphead. And according to Jennings, it was “One of the most popular illustrations of the 1910s.”

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It’s funny to think about the 100 year-old message on this poster, which seems naively simple, but is delivered with a bag-of-hammers subtlety. I must admit that my first glance at the map brought to mind Dante’s Inferno. Can you say subliminal?

It’s pretty simple really; YOU can be successful with a bit of focus on your goal. But imagine the horror of being:

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• Clawed off the road by the Hand of Vice or sucked into oblivion by Bad Habits.
• Swallowed down the slippery chute of Bad Reputation or Snared in the web of Jealousy
• Doomed to swim the River of Failure by taking Short Cuts

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• Waylaid by Laziness or Ensnared in the Tower of Weak Morals

And my favorite is that only the tunnel of True Knowledge leads through Lack of Preparation Mountain, inside the Gate of Ideals, and Ta-da! – To Success.

I looked online for one of those modern corporate motivational posters to quote. The best I found was:

If a pretty poster and a cute saying
are all it takes to motivate you,
you probably have a very easy job.
The kind that robots will be doing soon.”

Happy Trails and Good Luck with the Resolutions,

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We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

55 thoughts

  1. Brilliant post. I wouldn’t have got far back in the day…but now I measure success differently, and have set myself different targets in which to gage my success. And I’m winning; I have a lovely fiancee, I’m following my dreams of living and working around the world…and I’m happy!! Success!!

    And thanks a lot for the kind words about my birthday and our engagement. As we say often, we love you guys and you are an inspiration for us. It means a lit coming from people we respect so much and on so many levels.

    Thank you!!

    1. Thanks very much Steve. Interestingly enough, this version of the poster was an adaptation on the original. This version was designed to motivate musicians to learn to play their instruments well; which says that the goal and success are changeable (and hopefully, self-determined). BTW, congrats again on your engagement, and all the best for you and Leslie in 2014. ~James

    1. Thanks for reblogging our post Darlene. This interesting old poster is chock-a-block with subtle (and not so subtle) messages. I particularly like all the little detailed messages sneaked in, like the spinning saucer of Conceit tumbling souls off the road. ~James

    1. Thanks Jet. I’d love to meet the artist who created this poster. The message is there for sure, but the presentation is very funny. The “Hot Air” balloon with little people tumbling to earth is a great example. ~James

  2. Loved this post (and the posters).

    My biggest downfall in life was that I never planned for the future (except when I was saving money to go on my early trips overseas in my late teens and early twenties).

    I always worked hard and played hard. I never imagined I would face chronic long term ill health and not be able to work for a living to support myself (and face having no assets or savings).

    1. I can relate to the lack of planning Vicki. In my professional life, I was required to do lots of planning for the future, but when it came to my personal life, not so much. Sometimes that created good surprises, but sometimes bad ones as well. I have friends in a situation similar to yours, and I can understand how frustrating and difficult it must be. But, you seem to have found an outlet in your wonderful photography and blog. ~James

    1. Thanks Brittany. If you enlarge the photo, there are many gems scattered about. I love the slide of weak morals that deposits weak people back at the start of the road. Yep, there are lots of gems here. ~James

    1. After seeing a few of those corporate posters of beautiful sunsets that are supposed to make me a better team player (manager, salesperson, etc), I couldn’t resist posting this quote. It just brought it all home. ~James

  3. From the 1910’s, wow! That should be a mandatory poster in every home, business and especially government office! It would be easy to update it to include the new pitfalls of technology.

    1. That’s so funny you mention updates Laura. I thought of the same thing, but the post was running long and I decided not to. For instance: a smoldering car wreck by the side of the road, and on the side of the car it says: “Texting while driving.” ~James

      1. Great example. Or the pitfalls of social media to teenagers that post every sordid detail of their lives. They don’t realize that the internet is forever!

  4. Absolutely brilliant! As anyone who works in business today knows, it’s all so true in spite of the time passed (and far more honest about human nature than most current corporate speak) Every company should have this on the wall. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks for dropping by the blog and for the comment. Despite appearances, it’s scary but true that we really haven’t changed much in the past century (in the business world anyway). And this wonderful poster really brings it all home. ~James

    1. I’m sure that all of us can pick out a frailty or two from this poster Tish. I can see it as a conversation starter at a group therapy session. OK, who wants to start? ~James

    1. Isn’t this map fun Rusha. The artist squeezes in (brilliantly, I might add) more messages per square inch than anything I’ve seen lately. It’s a riot of symbolism, and certainly has something for everyone. ~James

    1. Bronwyn, I too was interested in the fact that a Bohemian lifestyle was one of the first challenges to achieving success. In fact, I was going to write a bit about it, and decided it would derail the message. I know that I’ve spent a good deal of energy trying to be Bohemian. But, in the context of this poster, it means more of a “gypsy” lifestyle. You might find this wiki info interesting.

      1. My point stands! There are people aspiring to nearly everything that wikipedia article describes (though perhaps not all of them at once).

        Personal hygiene is pretty widely accepted as being good, though. Even if we do have differing standards.

        But you’re right – it would have been hard to slip those thoughts into the post. You’ll have other opportunities to bring out your thoughts on the matter if you so desire.

    1. Thanks for the comment Patricia and for dropping by the blog. The thing that I love about this roadmap is that it not only packs a wallop of a message, but does it very cleverly. ~James

  5. I’ll admit I’d like to just hang out at the Mutual Admiration Society building for a while. This is a gem!

    1. Hey Anita. You of all people will appreciate this bit of trivia. I don’t know if you read the comment above, but this version of the poster was actually adapted from the NCR original. If you read the fine print at the bottom of the poster, you’ll see that it was published by The Etude Magazine, which was a magazine for musicians. And this Road to Success, was learning how to play your instrument better. You probably even know the name of the instrument part that represents success. Check out the Etude.

      1. It looks like a hand harp, but it’s so large, only the hand of God could play it. 🙂

        I love that this was used to encourage musicians to (dare I say it) practice! High ideals went hand in hand with learning music. I’ve had (and still have) some amazing students. But even in my 20 years of teaching, I’ve seen a decline in those ideals. I remember one time a mom told me accusingly of her son, “He’s just not getting any better.” It took all I had not to snap, “No s*** Sherlock! He’s not practicing! And I don’t live with him, so . . .”

        And on that note, I’d better get off my soap box and go practice. 🙂

  6. Shades of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Wonder what the modern equivalent might be like. Though such a type of thing would probably be laughed out of existence. Shows how the world has changed in the last century.

    1. An interesting comparison Dorothy, particularly when you look at the dire things that can happen when you stray from the path. The world has certainly changed, but I’m not always so sure about the people. ~James

    1. I’m with you Jennie. It’s interesting that those lowly Bohemians are the first threat on the road. Their Corral pretty much looks like a bar, and they appear to be livin’ in up. Success is great, but there’s something to be said for a Bohemian lifestyle as well. ~James

    1. Thanks Patti, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. I just love this poster. It says so much, and does it in a clever and funny way, and I guess that’s what posters are all about. ~James

  7. Pretty genius of NCR I would say! Love these posters…so many messages contained within. It was interesting for me to ponder on what success looked and felt like to me back in my working days compared to present-day. We had dinner with friends last night and were discussing this very subject. Thanks for a great post! 🙂

    1. Thanks LuAnn, I think this poster is genius as well. In its early days NCR was quite an innovative company. They were one of the first companies to hold off-site client sales seminars (get the clients away from distractions at their businesses), and they weren’t selling cash registers, but a method to prevent employee theft. Oh, and in case you can’t tell from the motivational poster, their sales force was on commission. ~James

  8. I finally got the opportunity to pore over this great poster. There are so many little details, it is like a Rube Goldberg machine. I especially like the Mutual Admiration Society where there is a hose of pipeline to a hovering Hot Air Balloon. Like you wrote, the message may not be subtle, but it is insightful and more than anything, amusing in an anachronistic way. – Mike

    1. I just love this old poster Mike. It’s almost like reading an old issue of Mad Magazine. And the level of detail is amazing. I had some great comments, and it seems that everyone had their favorite part. I love the slide of Weak Morals, that deposits you back at the beginning of the road. Classic! ~James

  9. Fascinating poster – great find! It struck me as a complex type of snakes and ladders (‘spiders and slides’ would be more apt), one which I’ve naturally come a cropper on a good many times! It looks all too easy to just take the train – I guess the trick is how you stay on board.

    1. Hayley, I love this poster, and every time I look at it I see something new. I wonder if the artist sat down with a punch list of bad habits and then decided how to illustrate them. But no matter how it was done it’s very clever and thought provoking. This may get to be my fall-back January resolutions post. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Alice and for dropping by the blog. I downloaded this from the internet, so I don’t actually have a print of the poster. It’s interesting how the message translates to different pursuits. The original poster was designed to motivate sales staff, this copy is for music students, and you have one for religious values – a common message for all people, at all times. Very interesting. ~James

  10. I came across this same poster about 30 years ago. It was, and still is, an inspiration to me. Kept it hanging on the wall in my office on my little start up company. Still have it. Looked at it often. Didn’t know its origins until about 3 years ago…..thanks to Google.

    Many of these same values are present today. I like your idea of an updated version.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tom and for dropping by the blog. It’s a cliche, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. I also like the idea of an updated version. It would make a great post. I could seek input from our readers, and I’m sure I’d get lots of juicy stuff. Ummm. I may have to try it. Watch this space. ~James

    1. Jan, thanks for dropping by the blog and for reblogging our post. I truly love this poster. As you say, it has a timeless message that’s appropriate for many themes and goals. I also enjoy all the fabulous symbolism in the details; like the sign for “Bohemianism” overhanging a raucous bar scene … love it. It’s statement to the designer’s creativity that it’s still pertinent after all these years. ~James

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