Continuous Effort — Not Strength or Intelligence — Is the Key to Unlocking and Using Our Potential

Winston Churchill? Liane Cordes? Liane Cardes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: On two popular websites with large collections of quotations I found an appealing statement ascribed to the famous statesman Winston Churchill:

Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.

No citations were provided, and I have been unable to determine when this was written or said by Churchill. Is this an accurate quotation and attribution?

Quote Investigator: No. This saying is not listed in the key reference “Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations”, 1 and there is no substantive support connecting the words to Churchill.

The earliest evidence located by QI of a version of this saying was printed in the 1981 book “The Reflecting Pond: Meditations for Self-Discovery” by Liane Cordes: 2

Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking and using our potential.

This work was from the publishing arm of the Hazelden organization, and the website of this group presented the following goal: 3

The mission of Hazelden Publishing is to provide products and services to help people recognize, understand, and overcome addiction and closely related problems.

In 1986 a version of the saying was included in a compilation titled “Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations”; however, the quotation was slightly modified by the deletion of two words. In addition, the ascription was shifted from “Liane Cordes” to “Liane Cardes”. QI believes this was probably due to a simple spelling error: 4

Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.
Liane Cardes

In 1987 this reference work was re-released as the “Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations”, and the same saying and ascription were included in the volume. 5

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

By 2001 the modified quotation had been re-assigned to Winston Churchill. The Palm Beach Post newspaper of Palm Beach, Florida printed the following: 6

Quote: “A continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill

The attachment to “Liane Cardes” was still being propagated in 2003 as shown by the following text from the Copley News Service: 7

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Liane Cardes

In 2004 “Trump: How to Get Rich” was published by the businessman and television personality Donald J. Trump. The quotation with a Churchill attribution was printed on a page together with a group of unrelated sayings: 8

Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.
— WINSTON CHURCHILL

In conclusion, this saying should be credited to Liane Cordes. The original version of the quotation was printed in her 1981 book “The Reflecting Pond: Meditations for Self-Discovery”. Cardes is an incorrect spelling of Cordes

It is not certain why the quotation was reassigned to Churchill. The two names Cordes and Churchill are somewhat close in an alphabetical listing and there is a known error mechanism that provides a possible explanation for misquotations of this type. See examples here and here.

In addition, in the domain of quotations Churchill is a very popular ascription. Quotes about courage, endurance, and pugnacity fit the Churchillian archetype. This saying spotlights endurance and a reassignment to Churchill is not too surprising.

(Special thanks to Andrew Old @oldandrewuk whose inquiry gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and initiate this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 2008, Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, Edited by Richard Langworth, PublicAffairs, New York.
  2. 1981, The Reflecting Pond: Meditations for Self-Discovery by Liane Cordes, Quote Page 89, Hazelden Publishing, Center City, Minnesota. (Google Books Preview)
  3. Website: Hazelden, Article title: Hazelden Publishing, Date on website: No date listed, Website description of organization: “Hazelden helps individuals, families, and communities struggling with alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and drug addiction transform their lives”. (Accessed hazelden.org on August 21, 2013) link
  4. 1986, The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations, Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Fate and Destiny, Quote Page 127, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1987, Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Fate and Destiny, Quote Page 127, Barnes & Noble Books, Division of Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  6. 2001 September 10, Palm Beach Post, Section: Inside Local Business, “Moving Up”, Page 7D, Palm Beach, Florida. (NewsBank Access World News)
  7. 2003 December 1, Copley News Service, Section: Lifestyles, “Guilt Be Gone! Jumpstart 2012 With a Good Trainer” by Marilynn Preston, Creators.com Info Service, Copley News Service (USA). (NewsBank Access World News)
  8. 2004, Trump: How to Get Rich by Donald J. Trump with Meredith McIver, Quote Page 77, Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview)