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Be Passionate About Your Work (Even If That Makes You Irrational)

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In the business world, passion is all the rage. Again and again, we hear that we need to be passionate about our work and passionate about our business. We need to hire passionate employees; we need to create passionate customers. And so on.

Yet "passion" is irrational. Philosophically speaking, it is "identified with an innate or biologically driven emotional state, such as anger, greed, lust, or other deadly sins." When we are ruled by passion, we forego reason, ignore our upbringing, turn our back on accepted norms, and surrender ourselves to the brute obstinacy of our instinctual urges.

In other words, we become insane.

With these thoughts in mind, I asked Ekaterina Walter, author of Think Like Zuck and my guest on this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, if her emphasis on "passion" as a key contributing factor in Mark Zuckerberg's and Facebook's meteoric rise, meant that, in fact, people had to be crazy to succeed.

Her response pleased me because she basically took the ball and ran with it, asking: "How rational do you think the decision of Steve Jobs was to put 50 million dollars of his own money into Pixar for 9 years straight... and not giving up on the idea of bringing animated movies to people around the world?"

Of course, Ekaterina was not saying that the idea behind Pixar was itself crazy—turns out, it was actually a very good and lucrative idea. Instead, she was highlighting the fact that the irrationality inherent in passion, in bringing a passionate approach to our endeavors, can provide the level of drive and persistence necessary to get us through those times when it seems that, no matter how good the idea, it just might never come to fruition.

She said, "When we believe in something, when our gut is telling us that this is the right way to go, that there is something better out there and we want to do these crazy things because, at the same time, we believe that they lead to disruption and they lead to new ways of thinking, that's the passion... that gives us energy, gives us motivation and keeps us going."

So what do you think? Is passion play a critical role in building a successful career or business? Or is this emphasis on passion all just a bunch crazy talk?

If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Ekaterina, you may listen here or download the mp3 and listen at you leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Heather Poduska Fri Jan 11, 2013 via blog

    Passion is fuel, energy, excitement. Who wouldn't want to feel that way about their job, their project or their life! If you are not passionate about the things you are trying to sell, market or get off the ground, how on earth are you going to get other people excited about what you are doing. Of course, in order to have a shot at making something succeed, it's best to marry your enthusiasm to knowledge, expertise or meaning.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Jan 11, 2013 via blog

    I agree that it is good to be genuinely enthusiastic about what we do or sell.

    At the same time, I was thinking through the words we use to describe the attitudes or sentiments we bring to business and what the word "passion" actually refers to: a very strong feeling that is beyond, and in many regards opposed, to reason.

    When someone is passionately in love, they may say, "I'm crazy about this person."

    When we tell people they should be passionate about their job or their product or their business, aren't we saying, "You should be crazy about it"?

    And when we say THAT, aren't we also saying, "You have to be kind of irrational to succeed"?

    I found it interesting that, in response to that question, Ekaterina essentially said, "Yes!"

    Thanks for leaving a comment, Heather!

  • by Justine Mon Jan 14, 2013 via blog

    I couldn't agree more! Sometimes your passion makes you insane, but with the proper logistics in place, it could pay off.

  • by Donna Williams Mon Jan 21, 2013 via blog

    It is fair to say that although we may not always admit it, our decisions in life are driven by emotional thinking rather than rational. Therefore, shouldn't it follow that our choice of career should be driven by an irrational desire ... or passion??!

    For me, it was a passion for marketing that led me to break away from the corporate world and the security of a decent monthly salary to start up on my own. It seemed the obvious choice once I realised that the company I was working for was not passionate about marketing at all!

    And it is that ongoing passion that has ensured that I have never looked back - without it, I don't think I would have had the continued drive and commitment to succeed.

  • by Matthew Grant Mon Jan 21, 2013 via blog

    Now you've got me thinking about the proper logistics of insanity! Thanks!

  • by Matthew Grant Mon Jan 21, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for the comment, Donna.

    I think you may be on to something. Although I'm a big fan of reason and rationality, I believe the science is fairly conclusive that most of the decisions we make in life are pre- or sub-rational, and we only make rational sense of them after they've already happened.

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