For more than half a century, Americans could confidently follow a path to wealth. In this book excerpt, the author of Business Brilliant explains that scenario is no longer viable.

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1: Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons by Lewis Schiff

In the coming pages, you will see how Business Brilliance has little to do with IQ or education. You will learn how Richard Branson became a billionaire because he can’t read a financial spreadsheet. You will discover how a high school educated circus clown used his Business Brilliance to become the billionaire founder of Cirque du Soleil. You will find out why a Brooklyn entrepreneur needed to listen to his lowest-paid employees, and how a $100 million line of business was the result. You will see how the famously impulsive founder of JetBlue uses his Business Brilliance to build soaring successes atop his many crushing failures.

In the process you will witness the debunking of some very popular myths about success. You’ll see how Warren Buffett started getting rich as soon as he stopped investing the “Warren Buffett Way.” How Suze Orman built her personal wealth by ignoring her own gospel of frugality. How Bill Gates made the business deal of the century not because he’s a computer genius or an “outlier” but because he executed doggedly on a simple three-step business strategy that anyone can learn. You will see how Steve Jobs stumbled into his greatest fortune by sheer accident—and then rewrote history so it looked like it had been his plan all along.

But most importantly, the seven Business Brilliant principles will help you learn about yourself. You’ll see why it’s just as important to follow the money as it is to follow your passion. Why a “big idea” won’t help you succeed, but the person in the cubicle next to you probably can. Why your network needs fewer people, not more. And why you’re better off doing only the very few things that you do exceptionally well. You’ll also learn about some behaviors that might be holding you back. Why you fail to ask for what you want at the very moments you’re most likely to get it. Why you feel bad when you win a negotiation. And why failure itself is a bad thing only if, like most people, you try to push it out of your mind by taking on something new.

I didn’t figure out these principles on my own. They are the products of years of original research, careful study, persistence through setbacks, and lots of help from other people. In fact, the book you are holding is the product of all seven of the Business Brilliant principles it explores.

The Trouble with What Everyone Knows

In the past six years, household net worth in the United States has fallen by trillions of dollars. The Census Bureau estimates that Americans lost more than one-third of their net worth between 2005 and 2010. White-collar unemployment, meanwhile, has lingered around 6 percent, a number not seen since the 1983 recession, 30 years ago. Standing behind these ranks of unemployed white-collar workers are millions employed workers who are worried about the stability of their jobs and wondering about the long-term viability of their professions and their chosen careers.

You’ve probably never heard of Umair Haque, but the Harvard Business Review ranks the young London-based consultant as one of the world’s 50 top management thinkers. In March 2012, Haque posted an unusual blog entry on the Harvard Business Review website. In it he wrote, “All around us, yesterday’s institutions are buckling and breaking, creaking and cracking (markets, governments, universities, corporations).” We count on institutions to provide us with social stability and rules to live by, but Haque says it’s obvious that the rules are all broken: “You know it and I know it. If you play by the rules today, you’re probably going to end up broke, lonely, miserable, exploited and empty.”

Which brings me to your motivation for reading this book.

Every chapter in this book explodes a commonly held myth about creating wealth and reveals success secrets of self-made millionaires and billionaires that they’re not always eager to discuss. Most founders of Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500—their list of the fastest growing private companies in America—say that the ideas used in their businesses were more or less stolen from their previous employers, though you’ll never see a news release to that effect.

In the next chapter, I will take the saying “Do what you love and the money will follow” and stand it on its head. The chapter will show how the world’s richest clown, the world’s richest fine artist and Seinfeld’s most successful bit player have all achieved enormous wealth by doing what they love while always, always following the money.The following chapter will show why self-made millionaires ignore the scrimp-save-and-invest mantra of the financial services industry and why three-quarters of all the people reading this book are underpaid. Subsequent chapters will explore principles of Business Brilliance such as “Know-Who Is Better Than Know-How,” which reveals the virtues of taking a “heads I win, tails I don’t lose” approach to any project and “Imitate, Don’t Innovate,” which attempts to bury once and for all the myth that success requires a “big idea.”

In the final chapter, I’ll go out on a limb, offering my own four-point program for Business Brilliance, based on my interpretation of the best practices among self-made millionaires. I call this program LEAP, in part because following it requires a certain leap of faith in the Business Brilliant approach. It’s also called LEAP because I believe that if you take all four points to heart and then execute on each of the accompanying 17 steps, you will enjoy a quantum leap in your income. I can’t promise that I know how to mint new millionaires. That’s the stuff of late-night get-rich-quick infomercials. But I can promise that your outlook on making money will change fundamentally and your results will improve if you make the LEAP program a priority in your life.

I see an urgent need for this book. To me, the main issue for decades now has been risk. More and more financial risk has been heaped upon members of the educated middle class in the form of lost pension plans, reduced health-care coverage, skyrocketing tuition costs, and the housing bubble. Big corporations and other institutional employers used to shelter us from these risks in exchange for our diligence, conformity, and loyalty. But that deal, common 50 years ago, is dead. Now the riskiest thing you can do is try to hold up your end of that bargain and hope that your employer will reciprocate. In other words, we are all now free agents. We are all entrepreneurs, whether we want to be or not.

(Excerpted from Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons by Lewis Schiff)