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Very interesting post. I am working on how social technologies can help HR transcend engagement, and yes, passion development is a worthy goal for an HR team. What I think the focus of your post does is redefine the goal of HR (which should probably change its name, and become just one of the "genes" of an organization).
The question I have is about performance, and thank-you Bitstrategist for your comment also. In my opinion performance management is a key pilar of the industrial organization (pre-big shift organization if you'd prefer). I wonder whether the very word performance is not a limit to the development of passion in an organization ... because I think that is what you are pointing at.
Passionate people do not search performance. Performance management was invented to control workers work in an industrial setting, when they left their autonomy and creativity outside the corporations, and whatever passion they had with it.


Umm... not sure about this one. Possibly you need to subsume this short but interesting argument against passion from Mark Cuban that I found very compelling.


Tom Asacker

Thanks for the thoughtful post John. I agree that passion is the key to sustained extreme performance and I'm intrigued by your definitions. But where is the key component of passion in your analysis? Desire.

Desire is what motivates action; desire to change the status quo, desire to achieve, desire to make an impact, etc. I've discovered that a lack of desire is what leads to depression; in individuals, organizations, and the economy as a whole.

William Seidman

This post perplexes me. I certainly am a believer in the importance of passion to performance, but this idea has been written about a lot in recent years and is not exactly new. Dan Pink (DRiVE), the Heaths (Switch) and others (e.g. The Power of Positive Deviance) have been writing about passion for a number of years now and have very good descriptions and discussions, none of which are referenced here. Also, we have been working on performance improvement initiatives for organizations for the last 15 years and I can tell you without hesitation that passion is the primary driver of performance, and the definition of passion is equally clear. Passion for organizational performance is always about a profound commitment to achieving a greater social good – similar to Pink’s ”purpose.” So, the idea of passion and the discussion of definitions is old news.

The more important discussion is how to create passion in an organization. We have found that the single best source of passion are an organization’s “positive deviants.” They are passionately motivated to achieve a greater good and will do whatever it takes to achieve that purpose. In addition, recent advances in neuroscience have shown that when written in a particular way, and others are guided to engage with the positive deviant purpose, the positive deviant passion can literally become infectious.

Once everyone shares this commitment to a great purpose, passion and performance soar.



Excellent as usual. In my studies of passion, I note that a great many highly passionate people fear their passion. It burns with an inferno's flame, and they know it. Harnessing that fear is a personal challenge, and many simply bury it rather than confront its potential for good. But, oh what we could accomplish, if we could do just that.



no one has passion ...

passion has us.

Rohan Jayasekera

I don't see how you arrive at "passion is all about commitment to personal improvement". You consider the True Believer to be passionate, but s/he is not committed to personal improvement; the commitment is to a goal (personal improvement may occur, but only as a side effect). That resembles what you're classifying instead as an "obsession".

Jay Hamilton-Roth

I interviewed a wide range of passionate people in my TV series Business With Passion (http://TV.ManyGoodIdeas.com) - including John Hagel, III. I also found a wide variety of definitions for "passion" and "success", but the common thread were people did what they loved first, then eventually figured out how to make money doing it.


Terrific ruminations, John. I always enjoy reading your in-depth, logical and dare-I-say passionate analysis. I need to absorb your categorization a bit more to see if there are flavors of passion that are missing, but I have a few other thoughts:

1. At the risk of getting even more meta with this post, I think there is another underlying semantic question, and that is, how do we define "performance improvement" or "getting to the next level"? In my discussions with people, I've found numerous metrics for performance improvement: monetary gain (i.e., getting a raise), moving up in a company hierarchy (i.e., getting promoted), receiving awards and recognition for superior performance relative to others...There are probably more that I'm missing. Regardless, I'm wondering if the way one defines passion should be coupled to the way one defines performance improvement.

2. I do think it's possible for one person to experience multiple forms of passion. For example, I can experience the passion of the fan related to music, but also the passion of the explorer related to digital business or travel. Our definitions of passion probably depend on context, and may change over time. We've got lots of hats we can wear, and we change them as needed.

3. I'm a huge fan of the 2x2, and guilty of using them excessively. In the diagram you've shown above, I'm wondering about learning vs. contributing. In particular, it doesn't seem to me that an explorer would necessarily care about impact...the journey of learning could be satisfying enough. Maybe the zone for each passion type is more diffuse in your matrix (i.e., region as opposed to point)? Just a thought.

Anyway, thanks again for a thought-provoking article!

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