When passion becomes zealousness

Photo by woodleywonderworks

During the last few months I have been attending a practical philosophy course. The contents are very interesting and are providing me with food for thought for many areas of my life and the way I live it.

One of the concepts we discuss is how we focus our attention. The idea is that in each of us there is an internal Observer. When we look at something or listen to somebody the course talks about connecting with that Observer. There is nothing between The Observer and his object of observation – no thoughts, no preconceptions and no running commentary from the mind. Just simple attention to what is. According to this philosophy, if we are able to see things as they are and not become victims to our own emotions and thoughts we will be able to act with wisdom, which in turn will lead to better life.

During the last class one of the students asked an interesting question. Does the idea of the Observer mean that we should not be passionate about anything? If emotions are, by definition, affecting the way we perceive things, doesn’t being passionate about something distort the way we see things and should frowned upon? Doesn’t passion stand between the Observer and object of observation?

We entered an interesting discussion about this question. I was not sure what my answer to this question was at the time. However, the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that the two issues don’t contradict. Passion and the Observer can co-exist. The problem is when passion becomes zealousness. We can be passionate about something. That shouldn’t prevent us from being able to stop, asses something objectively, and act accordingly (maybe even change our behaviors). However, when our passion is so consuming that it overtakes our ability to get in touch with the Observer, thus becoming zealously or fanatic, then we are transgressing into a non objective world that we should worry about.

I think religion is a good example. Even as a secular person, I don’t think there is something basically wrong with religion or belief in a greater power. As I see it, the problem starts when the religious belief prevents people from being open to other things, from accepting other truths. My issue with religion is that the passion overtakes everything and make people close up to the world instead of connect with it, which is in its core – what many religions preach for. If you look at the history of many religions they start with a number of very basic principles about human behavior and develop into zealous closed environments only later when the community starts shutting itself to the world. Or in other words, when passion becomes zealousness to one’s own beliefs.

The same can be said about other beliefs. Can we really say that capitalism today hasn’t turned from passion to zealousness? Yes, it is perfectly fine to hold such beliefs about the way the economy is working. At the same time it should not consume our entire perception in a way that prevents us from understanding other approaches and allows us to re-evaluate when we encounter new data.

The idea is applicable in a much wider set of situations.  We are all passionate about some things – we need to ask ourselves – are we also zealous in a way that does not allow us to observe.

What are you passionate about? Does it prevent you from connecting with your internal Observer?



Photo by SliceofNYC

I am a member of a Linkedin group called: “Harvard Business Review – Reader’s Forum” where discussions are being held around topics that appear in HBR. One of these ongoing discussions revolves around the following questions: “Is it beneficial for a company to allow its employees to use social media at work for personal usage? Why?”

I personally not only think it is beneficial, I also think it is inevitable. Many participants, however, disagree. Today, these two comments were added to the discussion:

I strongly discourage such social networking at work, not only it creates distraction at work, it also increases the risk of information security. There are other ways to promote social networking by placing PCs outside the work zone where people can use open internet (and remember not to put chairs there : ) ).

Would you let your workers go visit family and friends and having nice time during office hours….. definitely NO……..then there is no reason we should let this culture permeate through our work culture via any other medium (social networking sites), i agree with (name taken off)… rather that barring such activities all together….. one can keep them for those leisure seconds during work….by making them a part of the leisure zone where one can one can easily curse their work and bosses…

These kinds of comments make me both sad and angry. Not because I disagree with them. It is ok to have conflicting opinions and not everybody should think like me. Moreover, I am sure that there are some circumstances, be they cultural or contextual, where my opinion might be wrong and it will be a good idea to ban social media.

What made me sad and angry is that the people who wrote these comments hold a world view that sees employees as chattel. They see employees as cogs in a machine. What I imagine them thinking to themselves as they write these comments is something like this: “We need to make sure the employees work all the time. We must be productive. If they want to ‘socialize’ they can do it in a cage. Not on our time’.

While this kind of approach might work for certain industries I believe it is not going to work for most. And if in your place of work employees have the potential to access social media , your place of work is probably in the list of places where this kind of approach is not only irrelevant, it is detrimental to the work itself.

Seth Godin wrote in his blog today:

The easiest form of management is to encourage or demand that people do more. The other translation of this phrase is to go faster.

The most important and difficult form of management (verging on leadership) is to encourage people to do better.

I agree. Better. Not faster. Not more. Not cheaper. If we want people to do better, we have to let go of the mechanisms of control designed to stimulate productivity. We have to celebrate and stimulate passion. We have to stop fearing what we don’t know. We have to treat our employees as partners, not as serfs. We have to trust them and enable them to do their work on their own terms and hold them accountable. We should respect them. The comments quoted above show disrespect for other people. And I think disrespect for other people is reason enough for me to be both sad and angry.



What do you call work?

Photo by Snap Shock

I read a book a few days ago that mentioned the famous Tom Sawyer story about whitewashing the fence. Tom is punished. The punishment is whitewashing a fence. A hard laborious job. One by one, he lures his friends to join him, by convincing them that not only whitewashing is fun, it is an opportunity of a life time. this is one short example from the story:

“Why, it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing.”

“Say – I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work – wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why, ain’t that work?”

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”

“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

The brush continued to move.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth – stepped back to note the effect – added a touch here and there – criticised the effect again – Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom succeeds in not only making his friends do the all the work for him, but also in getting them to trade their treasures for the opportunity to do the work for him.

Like many things in life, work is in the eye of the beholder.

And I ask you this – do you call you work work? What would your workday be like if you looked at work as a privilege?

More importantly, if you are a manager, do your employees treat work like work? What are you doing to help them see work as an opportunity?




Photo by PinkMoose

Seth Godin writes today:

If you worked on the line, we cared about your productivity, not your smile or approach to the work. You could walk in downcast, walk out defeated and get a raise if your productivity was good.

No longer.

Your attitude is now what’s on offer, it’s what you sell.

I think this is something every manager should understand. What many managers try to get out of people today is not productivity based. It is attitude based. Innovation, passion, human connection, practical wisdom. These are all things that cannot be done without attitude.

Once, we could not care less what our employees felt or how psyched they were to come to work. Those days are gone.



Musings about teamwork inspired by @gapingvoid


I got the above cartoon as part of Hugh Macleod (@gapingvoid) daily newsletter (sign up for it here). This is what he wrote about it:

I got this line off of a generic “Teamwork” motivational poster. Then just to be my usual sardonic self, I added a bunch of oppressed, Stalinist worker slaves.

If this doesn’t get everybody “Soaring Like Eagles”, I don’t know what will…

I totally emphasize. In the last few weeks I am doing a lot of research work in the area of teamwork. It is surprising to find how much the academic and popular literature takes this kind of view towards teamwork.

The idea that someone “from above” will “direct” the individual accomplishments is not only outdated, it is insulting. It reminds of me of how serfs were treated in the old days.

Instead, we need to understand that teamwork, like passion, creativity and initiative (all the required ingredients for success in the today economy) are emergent properties. Teamwork is not about doing what the boss says. It is about Synergy. And Synergy cannot be commanded and controlled from above. It can only be emerge by an enabling atmosphere.



Passion as the basic capability


I copied the above picture from a slide on a presentation given by Gary Hamel in a webinar as part of the Management Innovation Exchange (you need to register to access it; it will be available for a limited time). The hour-long presentation touches on so many subjects and is defiantly worth the time of anyone who leads or manages people, but this particular slide really sparked my interest.

Trying to create some equivalent to Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, Hamel created what he calls Gary Hamel’s Hierarchy of Capabilities. These, according to Hamel are the thing people can bring to their work place. The bottom three is what we used to rely on and what most companies rely on every day. However, the three things at the top (Passion, Creativity, Initiative) are the capabilities that create wealth in this new creative economy. The problem is that these capabilities at the top cannot be commanded. These are things that people choose to bring to work every day or they don’t. Thus, Hamel claims that our job as managers is to create work environments that create a sense of purpose, that motivate and cultivate an atmosphere where employees can bring these things to work every day.

I can’t agree more. In a very simple way, Hamel touches on what, in my view, is the heart of managing. Helping people find their flow. In addition, it also reminded me of an important point about passion.

A lot of people have a problem with the issue of passion. They claim that “Follow you passion” is advice that makes a great story, but in the real world, you can’t really make a living out of your passion. Yes, some do, but they are the lucky ones. You need to be careful with the idea of passion, because it could lead you on a fool’s errand. Mike Rowe makes this claim in his TED talk.

I have written about it before and it is an important lesson that I need to remind myself of:

After I thought about it I realized that I don’t agree with Rowe. I think “follow your passion” is a very good advice. But I think our disagreement lies in the interpretation we give to the phrase “follow your passion”. While – I think – Rowe interprets “Follow your passion” as “do something you love”, I interpret “Follow your passion” as do whatever you do with passion. In the E-book I describe how in my view, being passionate means three main things: Being interested in what you do, striving for change and improvement and sharing your knowledge.

Now, I don’t know that pig farmer from Las-Vegas [Rowe motions him as an example in his talk], but I am pretty sure, that the moment he went into this industry, he followed some or all three of these rules. This doesn’t mean he loves the pig industry and sees higher calling in it. It just means that he does what he does with passion. And this leads to him being successful.

One thing troubles me in Hamel’s explanation as I think he did not take it far enough. In contrast to Maslow’s theory, Hamel’s is not really a hierarchy. The point is, in today’s creative economy, we need to flip the list and start with passion. Creativity, Initiative, intellect, diligence, and yes, even obedience, emanate from passion, and not the other way around. At least the sustainable true kinds do.

So, where are you and your employees on this hierarchy? How are you going to change that and utilize the power of passion?



Authenticity, Passion and Presentations


I was attending a webinar held by Ethos3 Communications today which was given by Scott Schwertly and titled: “Presenting Yourself, Your Business and Your Cause in 15 Minutes or Less”. I have been following Scott and Ethos3 work for a while now, so while I did not learn anything new, I enjoyed reinforcing some of the great principles they use to make amazing presentations for their clients. I especially like the unparalleled use of the concept and power of stories as the backbone of great presentations.

One thing Scott said in the seminar especially resonated with me:

“Presenting yourself is about finding your authentic voice”

I feel this statement is true in many levels. The most interesting of them is demonstrated in this quote from the book Elantris by Brandon Sanderson that I am currently reading:

He disobeyed all the rules of public speaking. He didn’t vary the loudness of his voice, nor did he look members of the audience in the eyes. He didn’t maintain a stately, upright posture to appear in control; instead he hopped across the podium energetically, gesturing wildly. His face was covered with sweat; his eyes were wide and hunting.

And they listened.

They listened more acutely than they to Hrathen. They followed Dilaf’s insane jumps with their eyes, transfixed by his very unorthodox motion… Dilaf’s passion worked like a catalyst, like a mold that spread uncontrollably once it found a dank place to grow. Soon the entire audience shared in his loathing, and they screamed along with his denunciations.

A while ago I encountered this retweet:

The public speaking biz is about risk aversion. Conference folks don’t want screw ups. Speakers need to deliver consistency!

And this was my reply:

Maybe public speaking biz is about risk aversion. But when you go in and break all the rules, they love it!

I believe in passion. I believe in both respecting and breaking the rules. More than everything I believe you need to be authentic. True to yourself . To the fire in your soul. To your audience. To your message. The rest is just props.