We’ve all heard the exhortations to, “do what you love”. Many (most?) of us believe there’s a fundamental truth in the idea that we will achieve our greatest success by finding and pursuing that which we were “meant” to do. Most of us probably also believe that while this is a nice idea in theory it’s impractical in the real world we live in day by day, with businesses, families and mortgages all relying on us.
As business owners and managers many (most?) of us believe in principle in the idea that, to achieve optimal performance, our staff should love their jobs. In practice though we’d generally be happy if they’d just do what we pay them for.
To put it another way, we consistently settle for good enough. We do this because it’s all we believe we can have, and in any case it’s all that we need. Nirvana is for nutters and hippies.
The rules of the game are changing
Here’s the thing – these days we live, and conduct business, in a world that’s see-through, hyper-connected and hyper-competitive. You may have settled for good enough but what if your customers are only a mouse-click away from a competitor who hasn’t?
Back when consumers largely relied on advertising to learn about products and services this wasn’t necessarily a big deal. A marketing message from a true believer is pretty hard to distinguish from one from a money-grubbing hack (particularly if it’s a successful money-grubbing hack with a big marketing budget).
Things are different now. The Internet makes everything visible to anyone who looks. There are is an endless and ever-growing array of websites devoted to reviewing and critiquing products and services of all kinds. Social media provides effortless access to the thoughts and opinions of friends, acquaintances and Stephen Fry. Why pay attention to paid marketing messages we all know are bogus when we have endless better options?
We’ve also moved with head-turning speed from a world where most commerce was local to one where geographical boundaries have largely dissolved. We’re suddenly comfortable with sourcing everything from consumer goods to business services from anywhere in the world. For consumers this explosion of highly informed choice is liberating. For providers the situation is less clear cut – there are many more customers within reach but also hugely increased competition.
In broad terms we’re trending rapidly towards a world in which there’s just not much point in being the second best at anything. Success lies in finding and defining your niche, and then filling it so completely that no one else can squeeze in after you.
So what does this all have to do with passion?
Ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could swim like Michael Phelps”, or “I wish I could persuade an audience like Steve Jobs”, or “I wish I could sing like one of those people on ‘The Voice’”?
You’re kidding yourself. If you really wanted any of those things nothing could stop you. You’d be practicing right now, not reading this. Malcolm Gladwell observed that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly good at something. Nobody does 10,000 of hours of anything just because they’d “like” to be good at it. They do it because they have an intense sense that there’s nothing else on earth they’d prefer to be doing. The problem we all face now is that, whatever it is we do, we’re exposed to competition from people who might just care about it more than us. People who’ve done their 10,000 hours and who are already working hard on their next 10,000.
Passion for our work has moved from being a luxury and a day dream to a commercial imperative. If you, and your staff, aren’t doing what you love you are at an immense disadvantage to anyone who is.
Some practical suggestions
Question number one for any business adapting to this brave new world has to be, “Why does this business matter?” If it were to disappear from the world tomorrow what would have been lost?
This may seem like an absurdly grandiloquent question for many businesses. We can’t all be working on a cure for cancer. But that would be missing the point. If you’ve succeeded in finding and filling your niche the answer to the question will be obvious – some of us will just fill narrower niches than others. The important thing to understand is that until you can answer that question neither you nor your staff will have any way of assessing if the business is worthy of your passion.
The next suggestion is to go looking for your narrative. What stories do you and your stakeholders (staff, customers, partners, investors, suppliers etc.) tell themselves and others about your business? I don’t mean official stories like corporate visions and mission statements, I mean the stories people tell at the pub or at the staff Xmas party. Find a few of these and you will very quickly discern if there’s a “passion gap” that needs filling. Such stories are also likely to provide plenty of clues as to what sort of pivot might be possible to bring everything and everyone into alignment.
If and when you make such a pivot expect some collateral damage. Clearly defining what your business stands for will also make it clear to at least some of your stakeholders that they don’t belong with you. In the long run this will be a big win but it could hurt in the short term.
A final suggestion is to make sure you master the art of projecting your narrative through social media. I don’t mean you should hire a social media marketing consultant and start annoying your customers with spammy messages on Twitter. I mean you need to present your clear and compelling stories in such a way that the people who critique you online, who talk about you via their networks, and who assess you as a place they might like to work can easily find, recognise and re-tell them.
Passion inherently generates great stories and in this day and age such stories can be incredibly powerful marketing tools. In the online world they’ve arguably become the only marketing tool that really matters.
Get in touch
If any of this has piqued your interest, well, the intersection of story telling and social media is what I’m passionate about. I’d love to talk about it some more with you. Click on my name below if you’d like to continue the conversation, or just leave a comment.