Monday, December 17, 2007

The Importance of Passion

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”
Friedrich Hebbel (German Poet and Dramatist, 1813-1863)

There is no greater motivator for the workplace than to create passion around people's work, that's when great things are accomplished. And the deepest passion comes about when people feel that the product or service they are working on helps the customer in some tangible way.

Out of college I worked for a software start-up that developed tax preparation software for both consumers and businesses. The founder and owner of the company was one of the greatest people I have ever met on many different levels, his name was Jim Petersen. One of his most important skills that contributed to the success of his company, was an ability to create passion around people's work.

We were all young, right out of college, all of us wanting to make a mark on the world but not knowing exactly where to start. We didn't mind working late into the night. We would to gauge the level of dedication using a metric called 'turn around time', this was the time it took you to go home, grab a quick bite to eat, shower, maybe grab a little nap and get back to work. It was grueling and motivation was the key to sustain the tempo.

Part of the passion for the work Jim generated was by sharing in the experience, just being there showed the staff that this was important to him, so important that although he couldn't make the product happen himself, he could be there to cheer people on and share in the experience. Jim would always be there checking up on the activities into the late night and early morning hours. Sometimes he would just sit in the hall and chat with people as they walked by. At other times he would walk in with a couple bags of snacks to refresh the snack table. At the beginning the snack table was always stocked with high sugar snacks and candies. As we began to put on weight and exhibit the other side effects of too much sugar there was a general revolt against the snack table offerings, I was chosen as the leader to inform Jim that we wanted, no demanded, health food to replace the sugar snacks. Needless to say he was surprised but more than willing to make the changes. At the end of the project we ended up at a happy equilibrium between apples, tea, and and nuts on the health food side, with M&M's, sodas and taffy to balance it out.

For the most part, Jim would generate passion through his pep talks, sometimes coming out in some strange segway in a meandering conversation. From Jim’s soap box a simple tax preparation program became something that would change thousands of peoples lives helping parents to send their kids to school with their tax refunds, a payroll program made it possible for people to pay their bills and feed their families, and a fixed assets application enabled companies to grow and create new jobs for the unemployed. Granted at times it was a stretch, it created a passion in everyone's work that was above and beyond the work at hand. For young people trying to make their mark and do something important, this was very powerful stuff. (to read more about Jim Petersen see my blog entry here).

There is an old saying, "When we are passionate about what we do our passion gets translated into creativity, into the amount of effort we devote to the business, and into many other factors big and small". Passion has a beneficial impact to our success and in the end the success of the businesses we work for. So if you want to be successful in your project or business find a way to create passion around the work you and your staff are doing.

“There is no greatness without a passion to be great, whether it's the aspiration of an athlete or an artist, a scientist, a parent, or a businessperson.”- Tony Robbins

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