Business is, at its heart, a rational beast. It operates according to rules, policies, logic and habit. The ability to think in a reasoned, logical and coherent manner is one that is highly prized up and down the org chart. Passion, for the most part, tends not to surface and in most companies is not valued when it does appear.
Questioning the value and role of passion can itself seem a fool’s exercise. Is it right? Is it appropriate? Does it have a place? Does it provide value? These are sound questions; an attempt to suborn passion to reason’s conditions and terms. But the question remains: what balance, if any, should passion play with reason?
In the New York Times on 4 March 2001, Senator John D. Rockefeller was quoted as welcoming the appointment of Thomas A. Scully, a former lobbyist for the hospital industry, to run Medicare and Medicaid, by saying “Tom is a problem-solver. He’s not ideological”. An instant dichotomy is created between problem solving and ideology: to be one, by the interpretation of the argument, refutes the other. Yet without ideology, of what value are the solutions?
Interthink, as with many management consulting firms, has strongly emphasized the value of process and consistency in creating effective project organizations. By having process become a well-formed habit, the organization is free to focus on the problems of the organization. By instituting procedures and guidelines, teams are provided with clear, unambiguous directions as to how they should proceed with their projects. But what projects? Where did they come from? In what manner were they brought to life and initiated? For many companies, the defining of their projects is just another process – or worse is the result of a popularity contest. By following the pre-established steps, we arrive at an inexorable conclusion that a project must be launched. Rational, objective and defensible.
But should the project happen? Should it happen in that way? Should we solve that problem? These are the questions that reason can only go so far in answering. Yes, it is possible to frame objective, measurable means of evaluation. That doesn’t mean we should. Or that objective and measurable means are the only ones that organizations should apply or care about. Conventional wisdom states that the accepted purpose of any business is to provide a return to its shareholders. However, if you ask any entrepreneur why they started their company in the first place, the underlying reason is far more often driven by a passion to create than a desire to make money. Companies – like projects – are a projection of our egos, and are initiated in part to create what is not there, and in part simply to prove that we can.
Many of the world’s greatest successes have started with a passionate desire for a different outcome, recognition of a new possibility, a vision for a new future – or simply a frustration with what exists today. The organizations that attract a loyal and committed following – one that counts investors, employees and customers among them – are those that have a mission and vision that resonates and inspires. A company mission statement is not the product of logic and reason. It is fuelled by passion and inspiration. So too are the projects which inspire their teams to great lengths. They see the world from a new perspective and imagine a future that doesn’t exist. A box does not bind them, because they don’t recognize that a box exists.
Passion therefore has a valued place. Without a clear idea that resonates and captures the imagination, a project is just another exercise in incrementalism. Processes, guidelines, policies and toolsets are essential components in efficiently charting the course, but it is passion that sets the destination and provides the fuel to attain it.