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
Axiom: Success is actively seeking one reason something can be done, rather than focusing on the 99 reasons it cannot.
By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall
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.