Passion can be described as the strong emotion that motivates us to move beyond our comfort zones to achieve the potential that resides within us. It is a force that orients us; it provides us with focus and direction.
Passion cannot be imposed or mandated from outside. At the same time, it compels us to move outside, to engage with the world around us. In that respect, passion is a powerful driving force. The internal momentum it fosters gives us the will and enthusiasm needed to overcome social inhibitions that otherwise discourage us from connecting with others.
If there is any doubt about this, consider the area where the force of passion is best understood: love. The archetypal scenario of “laying it on the line” in pursuit of romantic connection is understood by even the shyest or most conservative human being, in any culture. An uncomfortable or risky overture of some sort is necessary when forming virtually every new relationship. Most of us, if not all of us, have experienced the drive of passion in this way, which makes the analogy—while limited—a powerful illustration of how passion enables connection irrespective of social ability.
So, how can we use passion to achieve our fullest professional and personal potential? As poetic and instinctive as passion may seem, it also requires reason to propel us toward success. Only logic can help manifest passion’s goals. As Ben Franklin advised, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”
But it is also important to understand that reason can benefit from passion, too. In isolation, reason is a very shallow pool to swim in. That pool needs to be deepened with passion in order for any journey, whether romantic or professional, to be fruitful and satisfying.
Passion prompts us to ask the really difficult and creative questions that “sensible” people would never think to ask, from “Can we transform from an established, decades-old hardware company into a nimble software and services company?” to “Do I drop out of my Ivy League college and pursue my start-up idea?” With the right question, reason can help us to generate powerful answers.
Silicon Valley is a living example of the power of passion and reason woven together into a fabric that adorns every achievement emerging from this fertile valley. People are drawn to this region from all over the world by the passion to make a difference, to quite literally change the world by exploring new frontiers of technology.
Yet most of the highly passionate people driving the most awe-inspiring innovations are engineers. They are deeply trained in the disciplined rationality that brings forth amazing power from more and more circuits painstakingly arranged on small silicon chips, and lines of software code carefully designed to deliver the most functionality in the fewest instructions.
This example is not only a vivid metaphor, but also a dynamic reality. It is not a coincidence, I believe, that Silicon Valley—which saw a 13.4 percent GDP growth in 2010 (much higher than those of the U.S., China, or India)—leads global innovation and business today. Silicon Valley is a place that is centered by both passion and reason, as well as applied technology and strategy.
Many of us have suppressed our passions in an attempt to fit in and integrate ourselves into a world that expects stability, predictability, and safety. Often, they remain in the margins of our lives or in the daydreams that distract us from our daily tasks.
But in an era when deeply rooted institutions, industries, and even entire nations are facing enormous changes and challenges, the only path appropriate for coping with the massive shifts taking place in the world today is to re-discover both our individual and collective passions. We must cultivate them, with reason, and move them from the margins into the center of our lives.
The 4 Attributes of Successful People
To gain more insight into the tight relationship between passion and reason, and to allow us as individuals to achieve our full potential, there are four attributes that need to come together: focus, action, relationships, and friction.
01. Focus: To achieve world-class performance in professional pursuits (and recreational ones, too), we need to be able to carve out specific domains that we can focus on. Spreading ourselves too thin risks our being superficially engaged in many areas without ever achieving our highest potential anywhere. If we are not passionately engaged in a particular domain, it is unlikely that we will invest the effort and energy required to achieve mastery and distinctiveness. How to pick the domains that offer us the greatest opportunity to excel can seem tricky. But passion provides the key. After having chosen a domain to focus on, reason provides a valuable way to frame questions and test the experiences that we accumulate as we explore the domain.
02. Action: It is not enough to choose the domain; we must engage with it and explore its farthest reaches, its edges. It is not enough to sit in an easy chair and contemplate; we must roll up our sleeves and dive in to really experience the textures and particulars that helps us gain the deep insight necessary to achieve success.
Of course, leaving that easy chair and venturing forth into unknown territory presents real risks and can be very scary. Reason alone rarely helps us overcome these fears. In fact, it can deceive us into believing that we can process information about the domain from a distance.
Passion, however, demands our engagement and will settle for nothing less. It gives us both the energy and courage to welcome any challenge as an opportunity to test ourselves, regardless of the risk.
Reason provides a welcome companion on our journeys. It helps us reflect on our experiences and discern patterns emerging from seemingly unique encounters. We start to see the themes that make the particulars less particular and part of a more coherent whole. Reason provides us with powerful tools to make sense of rapidly evolving economic, social, and political landscapes. It helps us begin to zero in on the underlying forces driving and shaping the world’s current evolution.
03. Relationships: Entering, experiencing, and excelling in a domain requires engaging with people in ways that go beneath the surface of a casual conversation. It is necessary to form relationships that transcend short encounters and begin to build shared understanding of the domain.
In my team’s research at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, we found a clear relationship between level of passion and degree of connection with others, through a variety of avenues, including conferences and social media. Those who are motivated purely by reason are likely to find themselves less connected and therefore at a disadvantage relative to those who are connected through shared passion.
Passion can benefit from reason when seeking to forge a common bond with others. A shared commitment to reason can help people overcome deep differences in experiences, assumptions, and perspectives. Reason provides an intelligent, rather than purely emotional, framework to reflect on powerful experiences. It can help us sift through exciting, yet distracting thoughts to focus on the elements that are most distinctively shaping ideas and inventions.
04. Friction: Passion provides a firm foundation for productive friction to emerge and flourish. Productive friction is an essential ingredient in any sustained effort to engage with diverse participants in order to deliver significant improvements in performance. Shared passion creates a deep emotional bond that encourages people with different backgrounds and experiences to continue to engage with each other even when some of their most cherished assumptions are being challenged. They are all on a shared quest to find the most creative ways to drive performance to new levels while constantly searching for new approaches that offer the potential to deliver performance breakthroughs.
Reason provides a useful toolkit for addressing and resolving potentially deeply held differences. It offers some common ground for debating and resolving alternative approaches to a shared problem.