Marilyn Writes

Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall began her career as a journalist with the Wyoming Eagle in Cheyenne. During her 20 year banking career, she wrote extensively for The American Banker, Bank Marketing Magazine, Trust Marketing Magazine, and other major industry publications. The American Bankers Association (ABA) published Barnewall’s Profitable Private Banking: the Complete Blueprint, in 1987. She taught private banking at Colorado University for the ABA and trained private bankers in Singapore.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Is the glass half-full? Or, half-empty?

Tuesday June 3, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press Page 10
(c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved

By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall

Axiom: Success is actively seeking one reason something can be done, rather than focusing on the 99 reasons it cannot.
     There are few things about which we can be certain. Death and taxes head the list, of course. Another is that nothing in this world stands still. It either moves forward or it moves backward. Change is constant. And change requires risk.
     Many people spend their lives looking for the 99 reasons their objectives cannot be achieved. One by one, they work to eliminate each reason for failure.
     They cry out, "I'm trying!" As long as they focus on overcoming failure rather than on achieving success, they will likely fail.
     There can be a million reasons to fail. It takes only one reason -- the right reason -- to succeed.
     People who are uncomfortable managing risk think doing nothing is doing something. Instead, it is making a decision to let events control them, rather than vice-versa.
      There is no sure way to a risk-free, secure life. Managing risk is part of everyone's life. Avoiding risk through non-decision or finding reasons not to do things does not exempt us from risk. It is a part of life, whether or not we choose to recognize it. Many people get confused about why they do not achieve their dreams. They say they want to be successful, yet adopt an anti-achievement attitude. It's easy to do. Just look for 99 reasons not to do a thing.
     When I resigned my vice-presidency at Denver's largest bank, I should have been terrified, but I wasn't. I was walking away from a good salary, six weeks of sick leave annually, stock options, affordable medical insurance, a month of annual vacation -- for what?
     I wasn't really sure for what. All I knew was that I had "discovered" a different kind of banking.
     Other banks paid my bank $1,000 a day to come to Denver and spend the day talking with me about what we were doing. I had found my one good reason to do a thing. In the end -- and after a lot of hard work -- I prospered beyond even my own dreams.
     Some people have a natural ability to manage risk. Some do not. Some people are made to control their own destiny, open their own shop, start their own Internet-server company, or run their own medical practice. Some are not.
     Others are drawn just as naturally to the security of working for someone else. The bigger the company, the more secure the work environment and job benefits appear.
     Both groups are critical to the success of big and small businesses. Seeking security only becomes wrong when people are so driven to achieve it that they compromise their security -- or, as in the Enron example, their morality -- for the powerful feeling of being secure (or, for the secure feeling of being powerful).
     What risks do independent business owners and entrepreneurs take that corporate executives avoid?
     For starters, no one pays independent business owners a salary for showing up at work. What they earn most days is totally dependent upon their personal productivity. They cannot afford to have bad-mood or bad-hair days (or come to work with a hangover).
     In Colorado, women in 1997 who were majority business owners, controlled 28 percent of the state's independent businesses. You can bet they were not taking sick days because of cramps.
     The self-employed do not have the security of sick leave benefits and hospitalization insurance provided by benevolent employers.
     Extensive research validates these conclusions. A study of over 5,000 wealthy Americans -- some risk managers and some security-motivated -- was done from 1979 through 1992. The study found that the majority of people who work for large companies are attracted by security. Security and the opportunity to gain power attract corporate managers.
     People who are independent business owners and entrepreneurs find risk management exhilarating. Their primary drive is the control of self destiny. That status is available only when you are the boss.
     Money is not the primary reason people become entrepreneurs and business owners.
     America's most famous entrepreneurs -- Ted Turned, H. Ross Perot, T. Boone Pickens, Donald Trump -- have said: "It was never the money that motivated me."
     Many people make a bargain with life. They trade their drive to achieve -- and the risks that must accompany achievement -- for what they perceive as security.
     The need for security and the willingness to trade individual freedoms to gain it, in my view, leads to socialism and communism. Since neither works well anywhere in the world, this concerns me.
     Societies need innovation to grow. When government stifles the imaginations of the innovative by removing all risk from the daily lives of citizens, innovation ceases. When government rewards conformists, politically correct people conform. Conformity is certainly not at the top of the list of qualifications for innovators.
     In the old U.S.S.R., people did not worry about a job. The State created one. People did not worry about housing because government provided it. Moscow never provided anything the equivalent of what average lower-middle-class Americans are used to, but they put government-guaranteed roofs over the people's heads.
     Of course, the people had to stand in long lines to get food and sometimes there wasn't enough.
     Soviet farmers were unable to sell their goods for a sufficient price to motivate them to work hard and produce more. Why should they bother to look for the one reason to make farming more productive? On behalf of the farmers, government found 99 reasons not to innovate. That's what happens to ambitions and ingenuity when peoples' ability to earn compensation is limited by other than market forces.
     We need to keep that in mind as we move closer and closer to socialized medicine. Will our physicians have their incomes limited? If it is, and if they are intelligent human beings, the quality of our medical care is likely to parallel the production of farm goods in the old U.S.S.R.
     Innovation requires change. Change requires risk. Sometimes, people who take risks fail.
     Americans have been the inventors of our modern world. That talent results from learning to manage risk. It makes people independent, innovative thinkers.
     By eliminating risk management skills from the daily lives of our people, we squelch the very thing that has given America the edge in marketplace innovation. Other nations imitate our inventions well. Very few imitate the American creative process of inventing, however.
     The more people mess around with our Constitutional freedoms in the name of making all Americans secure, the more they drive the inventive nature of Americans from our society. The more lawyers want to hold businesses responsible because someone drops a cup of hot coffee in their lap, the more they drive the inventive nature of Americans from our society.
     What they are doing is trying to eliminate risk from our lives. We became such a strong nation because in the good old days no one removed risks from our lives. We were expected to learn to manage risk. We started with small risks as small children, and as we got bigger, so did the risks.
     The point is, before we let the risk eliminators go much further, we had better stop and think of the consequences of total risk removal.
     People who do not learn to manage risk seldom have enough confidence in themselves to do truly innovative things. Innovation requires risk. Do we really want to lose this competitive skill (competition, too, requires risk -- which is why risk eliminators want to get rid sports and a grading system reflective of performance in our schools)?
     Removing risks from people's lives motivates passive behavior. It provides justification for looking at the 99 reasons not to do a thing. After all, it is risky to seek the one good reason to do something. It requires us to take chances.
     And, everyone knows that it is easier to be popular if you go along with the crows.
     How popular were the early astronomers who proclaimed the world to be round rather than flat? All the "experts" of the day knew it was flat! They could quickly give you 99 reasons why it was. Christopher Columbus preferred to believe the "round" theory. That belief motivated him to discover a new nation. He realized it only took one reason.
     Who cheered Ben Franklin on when he stood in a thunderstorm holding a kite string to learn how to conduct electricity and harness it for the benefit of all? Everyone laughed at him. Everyone talked about all the reasons Old Ben would fail. Franklin needed only one reason to succeed.
     Albert Einstein commented on his feelings of aloneness because he saw possibilities regarding theories of relativity and atomic energy not seen by his physics professors. Great pressure was put on Einstein to conform to traditionalist theories held by "superiors"... His professors.

     In later life, Einstein commended on how disheartening his graduate years in college were. He saw physics differently. He saw new laws of physics. His traditionalist instructors did not encourage Einstein's creative divergence from traditionally held theories.

     Instead, they gave him 99 justifiable "reasons" his radical approaches would never work. It is a miracle he survived his educational environment and proved his genius to the world.

     He focused on the one reason he knew his theories would work.

     Could history's risk takers -- the ones who moved society forward by leaps and bounds -- function in today's risk-free environment?

     Through no fault of their own, I think not. Those who willingly sacrifice anything to gain security have created an environment unfriendly to risk managers.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

You must raise your eyes to see the sky

Tuesday June 3, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press Page 10
(c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved

By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall

Axiom: To grow, we need to find out limits... then go beyond them.

      There is an old adage that says, "I bargained with life for a penny, and life would pay me no more..."
      What are you willing to settle for? A penny? A nickel? A dime? A dollar? A million dollars? Or is there something so important you would not sell it for any price?
      Many working Americans believe there is something more precious. It is called creativity. It is called the ability to positively impact your world. It is knowing you matter. It is the satisfaction of leaving the world a better place than you found it.
      The most pressing obligation anyone has in life is to find his or her limits. The only way to do that is to test your capabilities. How? By going beyond them.
      When we do not achieve what we are capable of, we are never really happy. We always feel like there was something we left undone.
      People who do not understand this principle are the first to say, "I tried, but it wasn't in the cards." Or, "Everyone else seems to be lucky... a little brown cloud follows me around and rains on my parade."
      Opportunity does present itself. The question is have you developed the capacity to take advantage of it when it does?
      Most people want opportunity to come before they prepare. It does not work that way. To be ready, we must know what we want and prepare to get it. We must know our limits -- do what we can and must do today -- but go beyond the limits and expand our horizons.
      How many times have you heard someone say, "If I only knew then what I know now!" Had they developed their capacity at the pace they were capable of, they would have known then what they know now.
      The future holds for us those things for which we prepare ourselves today. People who do only those things required of them each day get stuck in a rut.
      Knowledge is gained in much the same way as muscles when lifting weights. The person who starts lifting 50 pounds today reaches a level where that is no longer sufficient to increase muscle mass.
      Yesterday's exercise with 50 pounds sustains gains made until today, but it will not add more muscle. Weight lifters who want to develop muscle must move beyond today's tolerance. They must life 100 pounds, then 125, then 150.
      The same is true of the quest for experience and knowledge to the person who wants to succeed.
      Before you can go beyond your limits, you must know what they are. That means learning your capacity to achieve. If you have the potential to lift 300 pounds but stop at 150 (because you started at 50 pounds, after all), you are operating at only 50 percent capacity.
      If people could be seen as containers, it would be easy to draw an analogy between them and their potential. No two people are alike. Each, like a snowflake, is unique. Each person has a different capacity to work, live, love, and be creative.
      If people were containers some would look like small juice glasses, holding 4 ounces. Others would look like 8-ounce water glasses. Some others might look like 16-ounce iced-tea glasses. Some might resemble half-gallon jugs.
      The person born with the potential to hold 8 ounces must fill that 8 ounces of knowledge and achievement to reach their potential for productivity in life.
      When we reach our full potential, fulfillment follows.
      By the way, fulfillment -- synonymous with achievement -- should not be confused with gratification -- synonymous with enjoyment.
      People born with the potential to hold 16 ounces must fill the 16 ounces to reach full potential, achieve success and become fulfilled.
      The size of each person's potential is not nearly so important as whether all of the potential is developed.
      A person with a 4-ounce potential who develops all 4 ounces will be much happier, much more successful (and fulfilled) than the individual with a 16-ounce potential but develops only half of it.
      The 4-ounce person has lived up to his or her full potential.
      The 16-ounce person who developed only 8 ounces is only halfway there. No one in the world may know which people have a 16-ounce capacity, but the 16-ounce person knows. Each of us knows if we achieve at capacity.
      Happiness and fulfillment eludes those who do not use their capacity to live. There is always a feeling of "I feel like I could have done something more." Too, we need to remember that the greater the capacity to succeed, the greater the capacity to fail.
      Too often, success is viewed as accomplishing an objective rather than achieving our potential. I view success as achieving potential. There are some rules along the way -- like living your life in truth and with integrity.
      People who achieve only a portion of their capacities are usually frustrated. They know their potential even if they deny themselves the fulfillment to achieve.
      People often refuse to develop the discipline required to reach capacity. In short, they are lazy. Or their security drive kicks in and they don't want to rock a boat by showing leadership qualities.
      There are many reasons to seek gratification -- a happiness of the moment -- rather than fulfillment -- the satisfaction of achievement at full capacity.
      An unhealthy need to be secure is probably the biggest reason most people make so little effort to find their limits -- to happily push themselves forward. It takes commitment, discipline, and a continuous, lifelong learning curve.
      Nothing stands still in nature. If we do not move forward, we move back.
      I have often said that I learn little from talking with people who believe as I do. I learn from people who disagree with me. Either I expand my beliefs or become more firmly set in them -- depending on the quality of logic in the discussion.
      Those who study such things say Leonardo da Vinci was the most productive human being to ever live. Yet on his deathbed, he wept and told the King of France (who attended him at his death) that his greatest sin was in not utilizing all of the talents and energies God had given him.
      Leonardo obviously had a gallon capacity and came very close to filling it. Even so, when he died he could see moments when he took the night off when he could have been creating.
      What is your limit... or, capacity? Have you disciplined yourself to develop all of it? Or have you settled for less than you are capable of achieving? Are you striking a good bargain with life? Or a bad one?
      We all define success differently. To me, it is not defined as accomplishing "things" or earning large amounts of money. There is little doubt money makes the fulfillment of achievement more enjoyable. There is little doubt that money gained without achievement gains only momentary gratification that may be replaced tomorrow with disillusion and disappointment.
      I feel sorry for people who inherit fortunes. They will never know their capacities because they will never be tested. I think they must always wonder: "If I hadn't inherited all this money, would I have been capable of earning it for myself?" They will always doubt themselves and their own worth.
      Through achievement comes purpose. Without purpose and some degree of fulfillment of it, I think success has no meaning... it does not exist.
      There are dangers we face along the way. Perhaps the greatest one comes after we attain a modicum of success.
      The more comfortable our lifestyles, the more difficult it is to force ourselves to continue to learn.
      We are told to be meek and we shall inherit the earth. I have pondered long and hard on the meaning of "meekness." I have decided it means keeping an open mind.
      Many successful people comment about how they were tempted to pride, thinking they knew more than they really did. They were tempted to stop learning.
      "It was the most difficult thing I've ever done," people say of continuing to challenge themselves after "filling their glass" to capacity. "I was tempted to think I knew it all."
      What successful people learn is that to maintain their status, they must keep finding their limits, keep going beyond them. To do so, they must keep an open mind. They understand those limits must be found in many areas, not just those which put bucks in a bank account. They seek balance in the physical and worldly, the spiritual, the mental and the emotional.
      It is impossible within the span of one lifetime to find our limits in all of these areas. One never need worry about running out of limits to seek and surpass.
Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall was the first female vice president to manage major loan and deposit portfolios at Denver's largest bank (early 1970s). She started the nation's first private bank and, after watching other bankers pay her bank $1,000 to spend a day talking with her about her concept of banking, departed the bank to start her own consulting company (charging double the fee per day). Marilyn helped establish private banks at banks of all sizes in every region of the United States. She was a popular speaker in this country, Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, Australia, and Singapore. She taught at the University of Colorado's American Bankers Association Trust Marketing and Bank Marketing Schools. She wrote hundreds of articles about banking -- and seven books. She was widely quoted in national publications like Time, Forbes, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and others. In 1993, disability forced an early retirement and she lives happily on Colorado's West slope.