POST WRITTEN BY
Dr. Eric George
Founder and CEO of ERG Enterprises. Nationally recognized thought leader on entrepreneurship, investing and leadership.
“Passion” is a common word in the lexicon of entrepreneurs. In many circles, it’s fully embraced as a necessary characteristic for every leader. Passion is perceived as the engine of the most visionary, creative and productive CEOs. It’s seen as the prerequisite of innovation and the hallmark of the most influential and inspiring names, including Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates and Jobs.
Yet to me, passion seems a nebulous concept that lacks the footing for consistent meaning. The term — through its frequency of use often lacking clarification or context — risks misrepresenting what it takes to truly build a successful enterprise.
I see “passion” as meaning unconditional investment. To me, it means caring for something enough to not need anything in return. Passion is why artists pursue a craft where few find financial stability and security. This kind of passion is important, but it’s not relevant when it comes to building a business from the ground up. Many entrepreneurs talk of finding passion so you never need to work a day in your life. But I believe that mindset overlooks some of the hardships that come with leading, such as wondering how you can make payroll or fire friends and loved ones because they simply can’t perform to the level the organization needs.
From my perspective, building a business is not about passion. It’s about figuring out how you can design and deliver a product or service that people need or want while surviving the laws of economics (e.g., staying cash-flow positive, etc.).
Business is hard, and to me, saying that you can create one where you never have to work a single day is unrealistic. By promoting this advice, I believe we are doing a disservice to a generation of people with sizeable aspirations and potential; to working people who need good-paying jobs and a meaningful place to work; and to our economy, which needs more small businesses than ever. Finally, I believe this advice causes us to provide a disservice to ourselves because no matter how successful we might be, we’re part of an interconnected system that needs innovation and solutions to the world’s greatest problems.
So rather than talk about passion, let’s change the narrative. Let’s talk about the difficulties of running a business, the stresses and sacrifices that test our willpower and force us to second-guess ourselves with alarming frequency.
Once we set expectations correctly and accurately, let’s talk about the importance of building a business that makes you passionate. Notice here the clear difference: Finding what makes you passionate is not the same as finding your passion. No one can get around the hardships of building a business. But building a business focused on solving a problem that makes you passionate — a problem you can get behind — makes the process more manageable and perhaps even successful.
Despite its absence in the process of building a business, passion does remain a desired characteristic of every leader. Employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders want the personal story behind a founder’s decision to take the hard route and tackle the impossible. People want to know the business was constructed for some reason other than strictly financial gain. Yet this kind of passion is not a basic condition of growing a business.
Finding what makes us passionate as entrepreneurs calls for self-honesty and introspection. In my experience, asking two basic questions can help guide us in the right direction:
• What condition of the current state do we want to solve or improve enough to make it the focus of our work—spending 12 hours a day, seven days a week on it?
• By focusing on this problem or need, can we create a viable and profitable business worthy of our time and energy?
I believe these questions are essential to building a successful enterprise. The first question identifies what we care about, while the second evaluates if our interest warrants the investment of our time, capital and attention. If we can’t answer the second question affirmatively, then our business will not make us passionate.
As entrepreneurs, we need to grow a business that makes us passionate. We need it for ourselves and for those who choose to buy in to our vision. Yet, we can’t let it distract us from our most important work, nor let it become our only priority. What makes us passionate about our business is the fun part. It’s not the beginning part, nor the most important one. It’s the paint on a newly constructed house, the waxing on the car. It’s not the substance.
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