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08 May 2015

The non-passionate recipe for business success

Like many of us, I hear a lot about passion and its role in business success, particularly for those of us with an entrepreneurial spirit.

You can’t read a book or blog or attend a seminar on entrepreneurship or how to succeed in business without being hit over the head several times with the passion proposition.

That, amongst other things, has made me realise that the message of passion is so overused and overhyped that it deceives some people into misunderstanding its place in the bigger picture.

While passion is important, it’s more the seasoning or the icing on the cake than the flour or filling or even the heat that does the baking.

By that I mean you can bake a pretty good cake without adding too much salt, pepper, cinnamon or whatever your seasoning of choice may be or, to follow the icing analogy, the cake is still solid, nice to eat and maybe even nutritious without it.

Having some perspective on the true value of passion as an ingredient in the business success recipe is important because putting too much emphasis on passion can bring you undone.

I recently attended a seminar where entrepreneur Matthew Michalewicz, author of Life in Half a Second, was asked how he had been able to have such success in the IT industry.

He replied that the reason he was successful was that he wasn’t emotionally connected to technology.

He explained that because he saw the business as business, he was able to focus on customer service and strategy.

On a similar note, I was watching an episode of the US version of Shark Tank where the business being pitched was a photo printing service.

The business owners said the reason that they were offering such a cheap service was their ambition to have it in every household in America.

Mark Cuban shot them down by saying “that’s just passion talk”. He said the business model had to be right and potential investors needed to know they would get a return.

Basically, he pointed out that passion doesn’t pay the bills!

Far be it from me to disagree with Mark Cuban!

As far back as 25 years ago, when Michael Gerber wrote the original The E-Myth, he identified the need to work on the business rather than in it.

He explained how people who start a business because they are a great technician often fail because of their lack of business acumen.

Part of that is that people who do have a particular skill tend to be quite passionate about it, so they get emotionally caught up with their craft in business.

That ends up dragging them down because it prevents them from growing.

For example a graphic designer might deliver something he or she thinks is brilliant, but which the client doesn’t like.

They then fall into the trap of thinking the client doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They forget that the purpose of doing business is to serve customers.

Admittedly passion for your product or output might help you persuade someone who’s ‘on the fence’, or it might help ‘sell’ your vision to bring others along on a journey with you, but if it means you can’t see the facts or the reality of your business because you’re too emotionally attached, you’re set up for failure.

What passion definitely does do is fuel you as you ride the inevitable bumps. It drives you to work longer hours and go the extra mile, because you are convinced that all the effort is worth it.

But that’s a very personal effect and usually doesn’t spill over to colleagues, collaborators or clients.

Business can be brutal, so passion can’t be the foundation – it’s just not solid enough.

You need to have all of the other building blocks in place, including the capacity to make decisions based on what’s best for the business rather than simply what you feel strongly about.

I’m not saying don’t be passionate at all, just don’t expect passion to get the job done.

Even if you are tremendously passionate, you can still train yourself to be emotionally detached from the technicality of running a business.

Passion is only a very basic ingredient in the recipe, not the most vital one, or the sole driving force of doing business, as many believe.

I am now ready to take the hit from passionate business owners for my hypocrisy.

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