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October 2014

Snorkeling through Life and Drive By Passions

Skimming the surface of the depths of life can be fast, exhilirating and fun. You value variety, changing scenery and the the sense of progress you get from constant movement. But snorkeling is a spectator sport. You see things, beautiful things, scary things, mysterious things which reside far below you--out of reach and out of harm's way. 

Distance always makes us brave and prone to an often artifical sense of courage. We can convince ourselves that proximity is experiential. Some of us even think that watching Youtube is interchangeable with real life. We assume things. We fill in gaps with what we think not what we have experienced. 

We scan, we surf, we get bits and pieces. And if we are not careful we make snap judgments, form strong opinions, develop personal narratives and even make life choices based on these fuzzy unexplored ideas.

Snorkeling-2

I had the chance to hear Eric Schmidt and his colleague Jonathon Rosenberg discuss their new book, How Google Works. I have always been interested in how Google builds and maintains its culture of innovation. They discussed their hiring process. They determined that 5 interviews yielded the best results in getting to know the candidate. They rigorously evaluate the interviewers for the quality of their hirings by comparing scores to hires and performance. But what was most interesting to me is that passion was the determining factor in their interviews. Here's what they do. They probe what the candidate is passionate about and then deep dive on that topic. Anything the candidate declares as his/her passion is fair game--Could be directly related to the job or an avocational pursuit. They look for depth of understanding, true emotional connection to the subject matter (afterall this is THEIR passion!) and evidence of their capacity for curiosity and learning. Not surprisingly, some candidates have no depth to their passions --"no depth means no passion". Saying so does not make it so. A strong candidate who displays depth of engagement, intellectual capacity, and personal committment to a passion has the potential to make it at Google. Either you got it or you don't. But Google ferrets out the snokelers from the deep divers!

I have been doing something similar for decades. I can not tell you how many times I have asked a candidate about THEIR passion and I am given this general drive by passion response: "Oh I am passionate about (subject) but I don't have the time now to pursue it." Like a secret admirer in middle school. "I love her but she does not know who I am." :)

Please do not use the "p" word like this. And don't let friends say such things. 

Things discovered during the snorkeling of life are potential passions. They are interesting things, curiosities, and maybe interests. They become passions through your relentless interest in them. You are quasi obsessive compulsiveness about them. You own these topics, you stalk them, you can't get enough to quench your thirst and hunger. What are your potential passions?

Deloitte has been studying the role of passion in increasing performance of companies. They concluded, "To address perpetually mounting competitive pressures, organizations need workers who bring passion to their jobs to navigate challenges and accelerate performance improvement. Yet only 11 percent of U.S. workers surveyed by Deloitte possess the attributes that lead to accelerated learning and performance improvement."

For those of us who have traversed start-ups, big companies, and non-profits, you know this. People with passion for life and their work make a huge difference. They perform at a higher level. This is what Google does at the front end--to find those with the capacity for passion. And Deloitte finds that deeper divers accelerate organizational performance. So passion is in demand!

Can passion be learned or acquired? Yes! You can have a small constellation of passions. Professional and personal. Things that you have made a committment to pursue and advance. Expertise, a cause, an issue, a hobby.  

I love Warren Buffett's advice to pick the top 25 things that you want to embrace in your life-potential passions. Then reduce it to the five most important. 

Once you have chosen the top 5, Warren then asked “but what about these other 20 things on your list that you didn’t circle? What is your plan for completing those?” Most people say “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top 5. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.” Warren responded sternly, “No. You’ve got it wrong.Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list’. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Passion and life is about focus. The more divided your attention, talent, and time is--the less passion you have. 

Your passions define you, they differentiate you, they give you an edge. More important, they make your life meaningful to you!

So continue to skim, scan, and snorkle, but pick out a handful of things to explore and embrace. Dive and lose yourself to find yourself. And don't dive alone. Engage your network, seek and create new networks, to guide and accelerate your pursuit of passions. 

No time like the present to Dive! Dive! Dive!

Thanks for reading. John