Friday, 20 May 2011

Passion Killer

 Polly's GCSE work inspired by William Blake and Rob Ryan
I'm not talking about socks in bed or cold showers. No, I'm talking about the over use of a once valid, and latterly brave, highly emotive word. The sort of Latin idea that would never pass the lips of cool business men or calculating politicians. Passion.

There was a little montage of David Cameron using the word on Newsnight the other evening. His passion for the NHS creates an unquestionable cloak of righteousness. He's passionate therefore everything he does must be right.

I was at an induction evening for a Sixth Form with my daughter a few weeks ago. The very enthusiastic headmistress stressed the importance of ensuring you choose A level subjects that you are passionate about. Well, Polly is keen to stay on for A levels, go on to University, pursue some of her interests, get the best start in life. She is also passionate about quite a few things: her hair, clothes, pretty shops, pretty boys, looking after younger children, tickling children, fashion photography, colour... to name a few. None of these translate directly into a neat label for an A level subject. She felt intimidated by the passion spewing forth from the Head and ebullient current students. The best she could do was name a few subjects she considered her least worse. I have no doubt that she will succeed beautifully in whatever she chooses to do, but implying the need for passion in your choice of A level subjects?

Don't get me wrong. I love passionate people. I love being passionate. I just worry about people talking about it too much. Requiring people to be passionate about something in particular. Setting out passion as an HR criterium. I think people sometimes think they have to be passionate about the wrong thing.

Matthew Rice's latest book
I went to a talk by Emma Bridgewater and Matthew Rice on Tuesday afternoon at the V&A. They just talked very nicely about their business and what's going on in Stoke, and how important the way they do business is for them. Yes, a great enthusiasm for pottery came through. Their love of the domestic came through. Their devotion to heritage, re-interpretation for today and respect for craft came through. Their concern for people, Stoke and the creation of work came through. Emma said, 'the most important thing you can make is jobs.' I looked at their website when I got back to the studio. The opening paragraph on their 'About us' page does mention passion. But a genuine and authentic passion. And not a forced or commercial passion: 'Find out more about Emma and Matthew, the things that inspire them and how their passion for family life has had such a huge influence on their designs.' It's all about the way they want to do things. The things they genuinely love.

In 'Forget Passion, Focus on Process' on the 37 Signals blog they start with, 'The problem with the “follow your passion” chorus: We can’t all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy but make the world go round.' There's some seriously good sense here. One of the comments links to a TED talk by Mike Rowe celebrating 'dirty jobs'. I was also put in mind of Stephen Covey's 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.' Although not top of the behaviouralist's charts at the moment, Covey's point that excellence comes through a series of habits is well put and worth learning. Picasso was a genius - he was talented and importantly highly prolific. His work habits let his genius be seen.

Let's think before we expound passion. And let's not use it as a default requirement. But ensure that our process is fit for purpose and delivering excellence to our customers. I wouldn't mind customers being passionate about brands and services that we help develop and build. That would be a desired perception.