How Passion Drives Business Success—and When It Does Not

They say do what you love, and the money will follow. Or will it?

As I’ve said before, my research finds that passion can be a strength that drives business success. Passion, however, does not guarantee success. And, we are told to “Forget Passion” by Scott Adams, creator of the popular Dilbert series, in a recent Wall Street Journal article (“Fail Your Way to Success”, October 12-13 2013) about his latest book.

So which is right? Should we forget passion, as Scott Adams says? Or, can passion be an important driver of business success?

The answer: both of these views can be right. It all depends on the situation and on what kind of passion there is.

Adams is right that being passionate about something does not necessarily bring success. Passion is no magic bullet. Yet, as I have said in my previous writing, businesses succeed by building upon strengths and passion can be a strength, particularly in cases when impressive success occurs despite a seeming lack of prior knowledge and experience. On the other hand, Adams is right in saying that it is easy to be enthused when something appears to be going well, especially if it’s a brand new endeavor and the many pitfalls ahead are not yet anticipated. As Adams points out, that kind of passion can easily disappear when the going gets rough.

But, the temporary enthusiasm described by Adams is not the kind of passion that drives business success. The passion that drives business success is far more enduring. It entails a true desire to pursue something. This kind of passion is not necessarily deterred by roadblocks and is oriented toward overcoming the obstacles. Still, there’s no guarantee. Even with an orientation toward overcoming obstacles, the roadblocks can sometimes become so severe that the once truly passionate decide to give up in defeat.

Nonetheless, passion based on a deep desire to accomplish something despite the obstacles can, in fact, be a strength that contributes to business success. This entails a true, deeply committed passion, not just initial excitement. And, the commitment is sustained, even when things go bad. This kind of passion drives learning and taking steps to eventually develop the strengths and the circumstances required to succeed. This kind of passion may have even enabled you to understand some pieces of the business merely because those were areas that really interested you. Yet, such passion finds ways to deal with whatever is required for the business, even aspects of it that may be less appealing to you.

When harnessed in an effective way, this kind of passion can bring success. This kind of passion keeps you going. And, when it keeps you and your enterprise honing the skills and the concept, essentially taking the time and the steps to nurture the business, this passion can be a major contributor to success. If it is deep seated, goes far beyond a temporary initial enthusiasm, and drives you to acquire the needed skills, find the right circumstances, refine ideas and concepts into something that works, and–if necessary–even shift direction, this passion can be a strength that helps drive business success.

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One Response to How Passion Drives Business Success—and When It Does Not

  1. Phyllis,

    The challenge in developing passion in a company is to support the passion of employees as well as the passion of the company’s founders and top executives.

    A company must commit to fair employment practices. The more employees can trust that they are respected and treated fairly in the organization, the more they can look beyond their own day-to-day self-interest and share in the endeavor’s passion.

    An executive who is himself passionate about the business yet relishes his power to fire employees at will cannot expect sincere passion from employees.


    Diana Schneidman

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