The Beatles, Money, and the Richest Person in Washington

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I just finished listening to Breakfast with the Beatles, a weekly two-hour radio program here in Seattle. I listen to it every Sunday morning (unless I’m on the road for business); it’s a ritual for me. One of the songs they played today was the Beatles’ cover of Janie Bradford and Berry Gordy’s song, Money (That’s What I Want), which begins with the lyric:

“The best things in life are free, but you can keep them for the birds and bees, now give me money (that’s what I want).”

That lyric got me thinking about a former employer of mine–a wonderful woman named Dorothy Bullitt. When I first met her she was already into her 90s, still coming to work every day as the owner of the King Broadcasting Company, and the richest person in the state of Washington (until she was overtaken by some young upstart named Bill Gates). Over lunch one day she started talking to me about money. Since she was worth somewhere north of 300 million dollars, and my net worth was substantially south, I listened. Her philosophy was probably not original, but it was new to me.

“There’s nothing magical or mysterious about money,” she said. “Money is like air in a lot of ways. First, you need it in order to survive. You need it in order to make other things happen. So don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s not important. But, second, like air, money should only be ‘top of mind’ to the extent that you don’t have it. If you’re scuba diving and run out of air at 100 feet, all you can think about is getting more air. If you have asthma and can’t breathe, air is going to be very much ‘top of mind.’ To most of us, though, we don’t think about air very much. We have enough to do the things we need and want to do, and we’re not terribly concerned with running out. As long as those criteria are met, we don’t need to be spending all of our time and energy trying to get more. Third, money, like air, is not there to be hoarded. I don’t care if the person next to me has more air than I do, as long as I have enough for my needs. I’m not jealous of your air; nor should you be jealous of mine.”

I should note here that although the analogy was still working for me in principle, and I was not, in fact, jealous of Mrs. Bullitt’s air, I was still a little envious of her bank account.

“Finally,” she continued, “just like air, money is out there. Even in so-called ‘bad times,’ money is out there. It’s not a scarce resource; it’s abundant.”

Simple? Yep. Simplistic? Not at all. As we begin a new year, combined with a period of economic “bad times,” Mrs. Bullitt’s philosophy may be more apropos than ever. The Beatles sang “Now give me money,” which is a refrain being sung by a lot of us right now. Starting with the mindset that the money we want is out there is a good place to begin. But, as Mrs. Bullitt said, money isn’t the be all and end all. Nobody accumulates air just for sake of having lots and lots of air. We might be well advised to think about money the same way. After all, the Beatles also sang “Money can’t buy me love.”


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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