What’s Passion Got To Do With It?

I’ve been thinking about passion for a while and started to really think about it after I picked up a copy of “The Power of Pull” by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. It offers a non-sensationalist yet sobering view into reasons, consequences and, most importantly, ways to thrive in the era of “The Big Shift.” The Big Shift signifies a move, facilitated by technology, away from predictability and to a world that changes at an increasingly rapid pace – a world where today’s competitive advantage may not be defensible tomorrow.

As a business, you survive by pulling the right resources towards you at the right time; your greatest source of competitive advantage is, of course, your people. It’s the concept of adaptability described by CTO Adam Pisoni so eloquently in this video. To truly thrive, you must design an environment that not only attracts the best people to you, but also helps them tap into their passions.

I think this post by John Hagel really nails the essence of passion:

“I’d like to suggest that passion is all about commitment to personal improvement. In contrast with obsessions, which are all about losing oneself in an external object, passion is all about connecting with, and developing, one’s own capabilities.”

Passion in a business:


We’ve talked about the empowered employee: an employee who is able and willing to take action in the best interests of the company. I see passion as the missing link between knowing that you should do something — but doing just enough — and doing memorable and extraordinary work that inspires and moves forward not only the business, but the world at large. Passion is the fuel for empowerment; it’s what drives people to push forward, beyond themselves.

Because, you see, changing the world is not rhetoric: it’s what people consumed by passion do. Passionate people don’t think in terms of checklists and widgets; they see the world through the lens of their passion and continuously evolve themselves to become the type of person necessary to reach and exceed their potential. We’ve often relegated world-changing passion to entrepreneurs, but in today’s environment, everyone needs to act like an entrepreneur. Features are commodities, and customers don’t want incremental improvements. Whether or not they themlseves realize it, customers want products that help them thrive in anxiety inducing, dizzying change. To deliver products that help their customers do that, companies need to think bigger and do better.

Passion moves companies. Collective passion, laser-focused on the same goal, has the potential to move the world, improving organizations by helping individuals improve. Passion isn’t additive, it’s multiplicative – passion begets more passion. Companies with passionate employees tend to attract like-minded employees and energize customers. As such, the organizational imperative is to create an environment where passion thrives.

I can tell you that Yammer is a very special place because of our collective passion. Our internal passion helps us overcome obstacles, as we are singularly driven to change the future of work. Because we are deeply committed to it, we innovate and attract the right resources and people to help us execute. We aren’t moved by static task lists; we are moved by banding together to get done whatever needs to get done. Employee and customer passion is symbiotic for us, one feeding the other. Our customers exhibit outward signs of passion towards Yammer because together we are making the world a better place by helping organizations and people maximize their potential.

From an individual’s viewpoint:

As individuals, we feel the stress and anxiety just like companies do. There are more and information streams to look at, and the way we do our jobs is changing fast – heck, this may even be the the end of a job as we know it. Just to keep our jobs, we have to out-innovate our competitors and keep winning the hearts, minds and wallets of our customers – it’s getting harder by the day. For people with passion, it’s easier to stay focused on what’s important, as everything else becomes clutter. Passionate people attract other passionate people and have stronger networks because passion is not situational. People who simply go through the motions will always feel frazzled; people with passion will never feel frazzled because they aren’t scared of the future or uncertainty.

When I posted a draft of this post on our Yammer network, Matt Partovi, a brilliant (and very passionate!) colleague of mine alerted me to this video of Steve Jobs talking about passion as the thing that keeps you going when others would give up. This clip is very much worth watching:

As part of the same conversation, Matt echoed how much easier a task at hand is for someone with passion — he feels energized doing things he enjoys, while things he doesn’t enjoy drain energy.

Sure, we’ve heard the adage for years – follow your passion and the rest will come. But how many people you know follow their passion, or even know what it is? I think we’ve been making the mistake of defining passion too narrowly. For example, if I was to say, “I am passionate about social networks,” that would really limit me to working with social networks. But if I reframe my passion into “I am passionate about the change social has on the world,” I can unleash my passion onto a greater variety of worthwhile goals.

People often ask me if they should have a separate social identity for their personal life and professional one. I used to explain it as a blurring of personal and professional worlds. I just realized that it goes deeper than that, because if you really are living your passion, you wouldn’t be asking that question.

What is it that you are passionate about? How can you apply that passion in your work? If you are a business, how are you helping your people connect with their passions? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Ant1_G (Antoine Gady)