Posted In: Inspiration, Process

Following Your Passion is Bad for Business

Dilbert creator, Scott Adams has a recent piece on his secrets to success in the Wall Street Journal. Among them, following your passion is bad for business.

But the most dangerous case of all is when successful people directly give advice. For example, you often hear them say that you should “follow your passion.” That sounds perfectly reasonable the first time you hear it. Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. Those are all good things, right?

Here’s the counterargument: When I was a commercial loan officer for a large bank, my boss taught us that you should never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. For example, you don’t want to give money to a sports enthusiast who is starting a sports store to pursue his passion for all things sporty. That guy is a bad bet, passion and all. He’s in business for the wrong reason.

My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over 30 years, said that the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.

For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion.

Adams’ advice mirrors that of which MailChimp co-founder Ben Chestnut gave at Creative Mornings on cultivating culture. They didn’t set out to build an email campaign service, but simply pursued a need; not their passion for cartooning. For MailChimp users it’s obvious that illustration and comics are a passion of the company, but the founders inserted their passion into a successful product, and not the other way around. It’s the love what you do model, not do what you love.

Scott Adams

You might end up with a business that does email, not cartooning. But you still get your passion done!

Beb Chestnut

Read more on loving what you do.

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