February 18, 2013 11 Comments
Nietzsche (or Madam de Stael or someone called Angela Monet) said “Those who dance are always considered crazy by those who can’t hear the music”.
I was recently contacted by an ex colleague who wanted to know if I still had the notes of a speech that I had made some 10 years ago during my time at SAP, when I had stated that SAP stood for “Strength Action Passion”. I had always preferred this particular interpretation (or Software and People) during my time there, rather than the actual German “Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung” (Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing), as despite this accurate acronym being possibly quite catchy in German, it was hard to use it as the core of a stirring speech to staff.
I didn’t have the notes requested, but it did enable us to have an electronic conversation about the importance of passionate employees in delivering business success.
I had always tended to agree with French writer and philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) who said “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things”, so was somewhat surprised to hear that there are many managers who believe that passionate employees are more of a pain than a pleasure, and that they would prefer to have employees who just want to come to work and do a good job.
As I have often said (somewhat tongue in cheek) that the test of a good manager is whether his people will get up on a Monday morning at 6.00am on a cold, wet winter day and say “thank goodness the weekend is now over and I can get back to work”, I have long been an advocate of the importance of creating passionate employees, rather than just expecting people to do their job well.
But now I was starting to wonder whether I had been over-romanticising the whole idea of passionate employees. Could a manager actually cope with a team of 10 or 20 people who were all wildly passionate about what they were doing ? How much passion did people need to be successful ?
Living in the Bordeaux region, I have many friends who are winemakers. Some are wildly passionate about wine and talk about nothing else, and others are clever business people who see the whole wine industry as a way of making a good living and supporting an interesting and rewarding lifestyle, these “producteurs” being enthusiastic rather than passionate. In most cases (pun intended) the “wine passionatas” are generally less successful than the “business enthusiasts”. Those driven by passion can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve miniscule improvements in their wines, often well beyond the tasting skills of their consumer market, whereas the business people make great and saleable wine, and then focus their time on trying to build their penetration and sales in their markets, in what is an increasingly competitive business environment.
In the wine industry, one needs to be enthusiastic about wine, but in the end it will be those who understand that to survive and prosper, as in all other industries, any business success is much more multifaceted than just a love and a passion for the product.
The dictionary defines passion as “A strong and extravagant enthusiasm, fondness, love or desire for something”.
I have no issue with the definition, but I am a bit bothered by the use of the word “extravagant”.
Some of the most annoying people I have known, and worked with, had an “extravagant enthusiasm” for what they were doing, whenever and however they were doing it. One I have never forgotten was at that time my west coast State manager who would often call me with his latest and greatest idea, late at night his time, with no regard for the fact that I was 3 hours ahead of him on the east coast. No matter how many times I told him not to call me after 11.00pm east coast time, he continued to call whenever his passion for his own brilliance overpowered his understanding of time or tolerance. He exhibited this same level of passion in everything that he did.
He was a highly successful manager, and I did not want to dampen his enthusiasm, but there is no way that I could have been successful, nor could I have stayed sane and survived, had my entire team of about 15 direct reports possessed this same level of passion. I was more than content to mainly have a hard working, and enthusiastic team who did what was needed and a bit more.
The question is “at what point does passion morph into fanaticism and obsession, and how much can any manager or organisation handle successfully ?”
For companies to be successful, I believe that they do need some passionate employees, as passionate people tend to be unreasonable and it is unreasonable people who drive change.
However, organisations also need people who are just seriously committed to doing a great job and are enthusiastic about what they do, even if they hate getting up at 6.00am on a wet Monday morning to start the work week, and take the time to understand the world’s different time zones.
I have come to the conclusion that it is exciting to have some passionate people in our lives, and that we should all at least be enthusiastic about many things, whether it is work, sport, hobbies or our families, but that being surrounded by only seriously passionate people would be more than most of us could bear.
On this subject, I do like the words of a founding father of the USA, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins”.