Is Passion All You Need?


Passion.  It’s exhilarating.  Energizing.  All consuming.  And necessary for successful entrepreneurship?  Many entrepreneurs seem to think it has contributed to their success.  It’s often cited as a cornerstone of their entrepreneurial journey.  And it leads to the dispensing of such advice to aspiring entrepreneurs as “just follow your passion, and success will follow”. 

But the research isn’t as clear.  Psychologists and entrepreneurial researchers have attempted to discern the role of passion in driving entrepreneurs to create successful ventures.  And while some attribute it as having a role, the research done by Dr. Saras Sarasvathy suggests otherwise. 

Dr. Sarasvathy asked expert entrepreneurs to describe how they would go about starting a venture based on the scenario she provided them.  The answers she received led to her theory of Effectuation.  She found that entrepreneurs don’t innovate from an idea backwards, as traditional strategic planning would direct.   Instead they begin with their means and, by combining assets with committed stakeholders, they are able to create a future that could not have been predicted.  It’s less about the idea and more about the process. 

Reflecting on the results of her research, the behaviors she identifies maps more closely to love than to passion. 

1.      Attraction to Something Deeper.

There has to be something about the venture that captures the interest of the entrepreneur.  It could be the idea itself.  It might be the method of delivering on the idea.  Or it could be the process of building out an infrastructure.  But the attraction needs to have enough depth to sustain the interest. 

It is important to have something that engages the entrepreneur and makes them want to pursue that venture rather than an alternative.  However, focusing on passion can be detrimental.   Passion can be fickle and fleeting.  Burning bright for a short period of time, passions can be transferred to the next item that sparks excitement.

Building a venture requires a long-term mindset and is full of operational minutiae.  While a person with a passion for music might think that launching an online music streaming service will fulfill their passion, they quickly discover that running this type of business might not allow for the enjoyment of listening to music.  So the passion becomes unable to sustain the venture creation process, and the entrepreneur might become bored or dissatisfied and abandon it quickly. 

Richard Branson talks about his “passion” for customer service and delivering positive customer experiences as a key driver for his motivation as an entrepreneur.  But this is more than a short-term passion.  It’s a love.

This love for customer service has transcended many business ideas and industries.  For instance, Branson claims he had no interest in banking or financial services.  Yet he started a financial services business.  There were just too many missed opportunities for good service in that space, he thought. 

This drive to reform customer service processes is a steady love that he has nurtured and expanded as he’s grown his business expertise.   Even though he refers to it as a passion, it goes beyond this.  His spark for serving customers started in the music industry and has allowed him to innovate his way to a business empire.

2.      Rooted in Reality.

When innovating, entrepreneurs encounter many obstacles.  Market feedback may not be as expected for example.  An entrepreneur who is passionate about their ideas may be blind to the faults in their concept.  They might develop an unproductive attachment to their imagined end that diminishes their ability to see and react positively to criticisms and shortcomings.  Passion is associated with a blind devotion to an idealized version of things.  It dismisses away faults rather than acknowledging and dealing with them. 

Love reacts differently to failures and faults.  It sees them for what they are.  It is able to differentiate between the trivial and the fatal.  It evaluates them with a long-term view.  This builds coping skills, communication capabilities, and offers varied tools to initiate an appropriately proportional response. 

3.      Willingness to Give and Receive Commitment. 

Effectuation identifies commitment as the key to venture growth.  As more people opt in to participate as customers, partners, employees, etc., the stronger the venture and the faster its growth.  Passion is notoriously short term. 

Effectuation encourages the connecting of people based on their commitment to seeing the venture to a mutually beneficial state.  It is predicated on the notion that the character of the venture changes with the contributions of those who opt to participate in it.  This necessitates an element of trust between parties.  There is still much research to be done on the role that trust plays in venture creation, but it is evident that expert entrepreneurs manage relationship formation by leveraging affordable loss – that is, risking only what they can afford to lose at each step of the journey. 

And while it is positive to have the energy associated with passion, the slow burn of a more mature love is necessary to sustain the venture through the many iterations required for true innovations to succeed. 

Passion’s Not All You Need – Love Is What Matters

Successful entrepreneurship is not a short-term affair.  It’s a long-term relationship.  Characterizing passion as the foundation is short sighted and neglects the long-term work that goes into building a truly innovative venture.  Passion is associated with the young and the fun.  Love can be perceived as passion’s older, more boring sibling.  However, while an initial spark of passion might be what kicks things off, the behaviors that are more closely associated with love is what will see a venture through to success. 

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC