Passion - I don't think you know what that word means

Having loved Star Wars since I was a kid, I was taken aback when I found the Sith Code, the tenets of the philosophy that embraced the Dark Side of the Force; a cinematic allegory for evil:

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

While my snarky mind was amused to find it strangely applicable to hyper-competitive personalities, the contrast between passion and peace somehow did not sit well with me.

You see, passion has always been seen as a positive in the circles of successful people I admire, whether it be Steve Jobs believing that people with passion can change the world, or being cited as a desirable trait of successful startup founders.

But in the Sith code passion was seen as a driving force of turmoil and conflict -- drama that's definitely unnecessary in the workplace.

It took me until recently when I read Eleanore Lee Teo's book "Raising Heirs" to figure out the difference. In it she talks about the conflicts 2nd generation business owners -- heirs of business founders -- face when managers or even their own parents disagree with their ideas over a family business they grew up with and know inside out:

What people forget to tell you about passion is that when you fail to control your emotional responses, it becomes a disadvantage both to [you and your colleagues]. [Rational thinking] can sometimes take a backseat and we act foolishly in our possessiveness and instinct to protect what we love. In this situation, passion can be self-destructive.

In hindsight, passion is so crucial to startup founders because the irrationality of pursuing a vision, a business idea, or a product in the face of uncertain odds is precisely the mindset required to power businesses through difficult birthing pains.

That does not remove the fact that there's a great amount of irrationality involved. Steve Jobs' passion might have even led to his infamously brash demeanor, a contributing factor to his being ousted from his own company in 1985. The Steve Jobs that returned to Apple's helm in 1997 learned from these mistakes, albeit maintaining a passion for great user experiences -- propelling Apple back to the top.

It does not help at all when the word "passion" is thrown around as a buzzword, and that job openings list it as part of qualifications, or in the job description. Eleanore Lee Teo continues:

Human Resource always like to say that they're looking for people with passion. This is a paradox because passionate people are rarely conformists or followers. And we all know that management appreciates enthusiasm but would prefer compliance.

Companies would be better off learning the difference between enthusiasm and passion. Otherwise they'll end up with Anakin Skywalker who was constantly resenting his bosses (i.e., the Jedi Council) for not promoting him into Jedi Knight.

All that being said, a great deal of passion -- tempered with a healthy dose of humility and a dash of maturity -- will be the only way success can be earned without hurting others and destroying relationships.

After all, if employees are driven by passion alone, they just might go all Order 66 on people who disagree with them.


Image from http://moviemorgue.wikia.com/wiki/Anakin_Skywalker

Jon Limjap

Microsoft MVP for Visual Studio and Development Technologies |Technical Advisor at PageUp | Philippine .NET User Group Lead | Photographer | Scale Modeler

Manila, Philippines