We take the value of ‘passion’ for granted. You have a business? You have an idea? Well, then you need passion when you talk about it. You talk about it with passion, you get ‘converts’. You get converts, and those converts ‘evangelise’ for you. Passion begets passion begets passion. And let the people say: Hallelujah!
Ugh. There are those of us who don’t respond well to extreme passion.
We’re the sceptics. And we’ve always annoyed the zealots: Why won’t they just listen?! Well, the passion is making it hard to listen.
The problem with passion is that it can cloud your message and overshadow your mission enough that it’s no longer clear what you’re talking about, or even what your business is. The more passionate you are, the less professional you seem – the less human you seem. At some point, passion begins to mask the humanity it seeks to express. Passion has diminishing returns.
The advantage, of course, is that passion costs nothing to implement. It’s not a budget item. You just have to muster it. And this is why it’s overused. Says Mike Manning, co-founder and CEO of DealVector, an online network for fixed-income investors:
“When you’re creating something out of nothing, you’re often selling a vision, because you don’t have the metrics. So I think an awful lot of being an entrepreneur speaking to employees, funders [and] customers is allowing that passion to substitute for metrics.”
But there’s a way to be passionate. A method, even. It involves what absolutely no expert refers to as the ‘enthuse, temper, enthuse’ approach. The idea is to occasionally, and quite explicitly, undercut your passion with self-deprecation or, even, hedging.
The idea is
When you’re talking passionately about your product, idea or business, you need to tone down the enthusiasm, so that it’s obvious to your audience that you aren’t on some one-track mission to convince everyone of your brilliance.
On the highway of enthusiasm, you need to stop and stretch your legs every now and then, take a restroom break, buy some beef jerky. You need to relax and look around. By acknowledging – even vaguely – that your idea is not The Great Idea but one in a cosmos of good ideas, you’re making your notion even more appealing. You’re placing it in a sane context – the context of the rigour that it will take to get the idea off the ground.
“I think you can own the part of the wild-eyed entrepreneur to some degree, as long as you can do it with humour and levity and be clear you’re not taking yourself so seriously,” Manning says. “You need to do it with enough humour so that people understand you’re both in the part and playing the part.”
Wild-eyed is not a virtue. Unmitigated passion is a marker associated with various psychological disorders. You need to seem sane. The best way to do this is to look at your pitch or speech as a conversation. Your passion must be inclusive. Otherwise you’re imposing your idea on people, instead of helping them understand why it’s so good – for them.
In a conversation, you need to pick up on cues. This is not a new idea; in sales you’re taught to ask a lot of questions to home in on your audience’s needs. “If you just start talking without truly understanding your audience, you run the risk of making incorrect assumptions,” says Lee Zane of the Department of Management at Rider University.
“When I used to do sales work when I had my software business, we would do conference presentations where we’d invite 20 firms in and present our software, and I wouldn’t start until I’d asked a bunch of questions. Why are they doing this now? What problems do they have? Then I could go in and be reasonably enthusiastic in a presentation, because I knew what they were looking for.”
You can’t know what people are looking for when you’re too busy telling them what to look for. Passion is important, but it has to be tempered. It has to seem connected to reality and to your mission that was (presumably) thoughtfully considered and rigorously executed. It’s good to seem passionate. It’s better to seem driven.
Key Technical Matters
- Use body language to express passion.
- As long as it’s body language that doesn’t involve raising the roof. Or pelvic thrusting. Or indiscriminate fist bumping. Or shielding your eyes from the wattage of your own brilliant idea. Or chest beating, which has worked for exactly two people: King Kong and Celine Dion.
- Closing your eyes and reciting a quote you found by Googling ‘passion quote’ will not make you seem authentically passionate.
- Passion butts right up against a lot of other, less positive qualities, such as: mania, scumbaggery and an eagerness possibly fueled by cocaine. Fine lines there.
- Words to use instead of passion (which is an overused word): hunger, enthusiasm, drive, excitement, zeal.
- Not-so-good words to use instead of passion: obsession, infatuation, paroxysm, strong urge, zealotry.
- Your general demeanour should be somewhere between ardent and fervent.
- If you find yourself being merely keen, you are not passionate enough.
- If you are vehement, you are too passionate.
- If you are taken away by the police, you are way, way too passionate.
Want fervour with that?
We asked Loren Bouchard, writer and creator of the Fox animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers, to tell us what makes Bob, passionate owner of a hamburger joint, a well-rounded character.
“The key to balancing passion is humility. When we write a character who’s super-passionate, but we want them to be likeable and relatable, too, we use doubt and humility as our secret ingredients.
“Bob knows he makes a great burger – a truly original and creative burger. We’ve layered Bob’s character with all the attributes of a real artist – a beef artist, let’s call him. And Bob, like many real artists, has pursued his passion to the point that he is actually trying to make a living at it. And that’s when things get tricky. When the artist doesn’t immediately succeed in his chosen field, doubt comes – he sees himself struggling, sees his family having to sacrifice, to do without, all so that he might practice his art.”
Now you have a relatable character. That guy is the guy you want to meet. He’s humbled by circumstance, but does he still make a great burger? Of course he does. He makes the best burger around. He’s confident and resilient, and he’s making burgers at the peak of his burger-making powers. You love his burgers!
He just can’t pay his bills. He can’t afford that nice thing he wants: The condo with the yard, maybe. Is he bitter? Well, define bitter. He’s exactly the amount of bitter that many great flavours are: Coffee, Scotch. (Those are bad examples. You get the idea.)
Passion and confidence are great, but without humility they seem naive, unrealistic, teetering toward narcissistic. Add a healthy dose of humility, though, and you’ve got the makings of what we might call Character with a capital C. Real character is a good ingredient for storytelling and for humans, too.
Build Solid Back-Room Basics For Business Success
What do South African entrepreneurs really know about what goes on behind the scenes building of businesses?
South Africa has a vibrant start-up culture with great ideas starting out with a bang, but closing down with a whimper because entrepreneurs picture the glory at the destination, but not the nitty gritty of the journey to get there.
Be smart about scale
When I started out, I literally did everything myself. I negotiated and signed leases, I arranged the furnishing for our apartments and managed the interior décor process. When guests started using our apartments, I signed them in at reception, and then carried their bags.
At that stage, there was no money in my business to pay for attorneys, interior designers and decorators and there certainly wasn’t enough money for porters.
However, when we got to 70 apartments, it didn’t make sense for me to be a porter any longer, so I hired someone to do that job, explaining clearly what I expected of him. Before I did that, though, I spent time designing incentives for him so that he would be more affordable for me, and so that he could earn as much money as possible.
Related: Training Is A Two-Way Trick
Know your talents – and your limitations
There are certain things I’m really good at, but I know without a doubt that sales isn’t one of them – and without sales, you don’t have a business. I couldn’t afford a top-flight salesperson, but I knew that I could attract the right talent with the right business model. I set some high targets for Pamela Niemand, but offered her one third of the business if she met them. We both won: she earned a share in a successful, trend-setting business, and my trend-setting business became successful!
Use your skills – but know when to hand over
My background in corporate finance meant that I had all the accounting skills I needed when we first started out, but I knew that the time would come when I would need someone focused on that side of the business full time. Doing it all myself first meant that I could brief my first full-time accountant clearly and with a deep understanding of what would be required – and that I could help that person find and fix any challenges based on my experience.
In summary, my simple advice to anyone starting out would be to bootstrap your business yourself without investors or staff for as long as you can, but don’t over-extend yourself. Know when to delegate tasks away so that you can focus on what you’re really good at – but don’t do it before you have a solid understanding of what’s required. Know what you’ll never be able to do, and bring in that resource from the beginning – but do it based on performance-based incentives, so that your fledgling business doesn’t lose out if your early hires don’t perform.
The Myth About The Relationship Between Entrepreneurs And Taking Risks
This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
“I can’t be an entrepreneur or start a business. I don’t have the appetite for risk.” This line is spoken regularly to brave few that leave the perceived safety of a job, take the plunge and venture into the unknown world of being an entrepreneur. However, there is a gross misunderstanding in the appetite for risk that entrepreneurs are believed to have innately inside of them.
The little-known truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs don’t like taking risks and according to Luca Rigotti and Mathew Ryan in their paper that explores a model for quantifying risk and its translation into enterprising action, the results were very interesting.
Risk is explained by these theorists as taking action where the outcomes are unpredictable as well the factors leading to that outcome are unknown. One of the theorists in this area, Saraswati, who coined the term “tolerance for ambiguity” has a more accurate description of what the outside world deems taking a risk.
In simple terms, entrepreneurs don’t go head-first into the shark infested water because they like the idea of danger and potentially being eaten alive; or the thrill of being able to say that they survived whilst others perished in a pool of maimed flesh. They carefully calculate that the sharks have been fed recently, some of the sharks are ragged tooth sharks that whilst looking like they are set to devour a human being, are actually incapable of opening their jaws wide enough to bite. For those sharks that still have space or who smell blood and can’t resist the urge to kill, the entrepreneur has a cage set up that he can retreat into quickly and a knife with which to protect himself.
Tolerance for ambiguity is the careful evaluation of what is known at the moment where a decision must be made and an open-mindedness for what is not known. This, coupled with the agility to change course when new information is presented, has earned the label of high risk appetite. The appetite is not for the risk, but it is the ability to move down a path, when all the information is not known.
I likened it to a person moving around in the dark holding a candle. The candle casts a light that illuminates a limited parameter around the person holding the candle. What is beyond the light that the candle casts, is unknown and potentially a risk. But as the person moves forward, the light reveals what was unknown and in the shadows. As the light reveals new information and new challenges added to what they have already learnt, the person can make better informed decisions. The tolerance is in not knowing what lies in the shadows yet to be illuminated by the candle and then the confidence in his or her own ability to act on what new information is discovered.
None of this behaviour is risky or irresponsible. There is careful consideration for what is known and a tolerance for what is unknown. And once there is more information available, a calculated next step is taken and more information is assimilated into what is now known. This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
7 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs To Adopt Today
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
For some people, becoming an entrepreneur is as easy as stepping off a bus. They have a big idea, they bring it to life, they hire employees and the next thing they are in a building smothered in branding and living the business dream. For others, the idea and the passion are there but they are unsure as to how they can make these into a sustainable reality. Entrepreneurial spirit isn’t like instant coffee – you don’t add ideas and suddenly get all the skills you need to thrive.
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
1. Believable vision
Make sure that your vision is believable and achievable. It has to live in the realms of possibility, not as a blue-sky idea that looks good on paper but wouldn’t work in reality. You need to be able to live this vision so make it realistic and achievable. This will not only keep you on track, but your employees as well.
2. Be inclusive
You need to ensure that every person who works with you feels as if they are part of your vision and understand it. They need to relate to where the business is going and how it plans to get there. Many leaders don’t understand why employees are not engaged with their business and it’s because many of them don’t actually understand what the business does.
3. Communication is critical
If you don’t have fantastic communication skills, then now is the time to hone them. When it comes to building employee morale, commitment and engagement, nothing works as effectively as constant communication. The same applies to client relationships. You need to repeat the vision and ethos of the company at every opportunity and you need to be part of the team that does this communication.
4. Be visible and transparent
You are communicating, now you need to make that communication genuine by being both open and clear. People respond incredibly well to transparency. They feel as if they are part of something that recognises their value and contribution and it fosters a more inclusive company culture. Often toxic cultures come about thanks to a lack of communication and visibility. People know when things are being kept secret and react negatively to it, regardless of whether they’re an employee, a customer or a manager.
5. Be practical
You aren’t going to build an empire in a fortnight so focus on a realistic and practical business strategy that has clear benchmarks and even clearer goals. Communicate these with the company and keep everybody on the same page. Practical and achievable means long-term success.
6. Build opportunities
As people become immersed in your company and part of its growth they will also need opportunities to grow. You need to tie their careers to the business and create opportunities for them.
7. Be human
It takes people to build a culture, a company and a future. It’s essential that you are human in your interactions and your treatment of others. The impact that a down to earth and authentic attitude can have on a company is extraordinary.
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