Why Passion is the Most Misunderstood Word in Entrepreneurship

Wednesday August 10, 2011,

4 min Read

View from the sidelines by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy

The dictionary definition of passion is “a strong liking for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept” or “violent, intense, or overmastering emotion : depth or vehemence of feeling : a state of or capacity for emotional excitement.” Often we find this word tied up to entrepreneurship, with entrepreneurs using it to define why they are into entrepreneurship. “I am passionate about it” is the most common refrain. But passion is just beyond getting absorbed into your work. If you like something very much and start a business out of it, it is not passion.

Most entrepreneurs agree that they are opportunistic. They sight an opportunity and business proposition in an idea that they may not be passionate about. So they would start on it. They may not be passionate about the idea or the core of it. Perhaps they don’t have an involvement in the depth of the business idea. Just that they spotted the opportunity and are capable of executing well, they stay on in such a business for a period of time and exit. Some really capable ones go on finding businesses after businesses and they are the serial entrepreneurs, who wouldn’t usually stay on for not more than two to three years in a business. They get restless and move on.

Most lifestyle businesses have founders who are really passionate about what they are doing. These founders are deeply involved with the idea; for example, if someone is doing designer clothing, design is something close to their heart. Fabric is their life. Creating something out of their craft excites them. Monetary returns matter little and they survive lean periods remarkably well, not thinking in business terms but as practice of craft. This could well apply to many solo entrepreneurs who enjoy what they are doing. Passion drives them in true sense of the word.

Let’s now take this term “I am passionate about something” from an entrepreneur. What they actually could mean is they very much like what they are doing. But given a chance, they might as well exit. Some entrepreneurs are passionate about building an organization and that doesn’t amount to passion in their work. How passion makes a difference is what you do when your business is not doing well. The really passionate entrepreneurs find creative solutions to stay on in the business. They wouldn’t want to give up. For them, more than anything else, it’s doing their karma matters. Practicing their craft is a lifetime engagement. They overcome any hurdle on the way to build something out of nothing. This is real passion. The other kinds of passion, commonly alluded to when one talks about entrepreneurship, cannot be taken at face value.

There is another kind of passion that drives people. This well applies to social entrepreneurship. There are people who really want to make a difference to rural lives or lives of the poor. They expect perhaps nothing in return but are bent upon improving the lifestyle or livelihood of rural communities. They are more driven by a missionary zeal rather than pure-play passion. They have an activist mindset and challenge the status quo. They turn antiestablishment when the state is not in a listening mode. And the audacious and brave ones overcome any stumbling block to achieve what they intended. This is a mission accomplished, rather than passion to, say, do what they did. The very fact that hundreds of people are benefitted from their initiative drives them.

So, the next time you use the word passion, you may want to think if you are really passionate about your business or your craft or just playing it up for audience to feel good about you.

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