Passion — The Crucial Ingredient that Precedes “Getting Really Good” at Something

There is a clear finding in the books I have presented so far in 2009.  If you put Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell with Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, you learn that getting really, really good at anything requires a lot, a whole lot, of hard work, with a discipline of pursuing “deliberate practice” over the long haul.

Gladwell puts it this way (in a music context):  “Practicing: that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better” (p. 39).

Colvin pursues this further, suggesting the specific steps required to “deliberately practice”:

What Deliberate Practice Is And Isn’t:  For starters, it isn’t what most of us do when we’re “practicing.”

• It’s designed specifically to improve performance

• It can be repeated a lot

• Feedback on results is continuously available

• It’s highly demanding mentally

• It isn’t much fun

• Deliberate practice is not the only thing (luck; circumstances play a part) – but without it, greatness is not achieved and does not show up

So, if it requires much hard work to get really good at something, and for those who do so, they discover, and admit, that deliberate practice is never fun, what in the world will drive someone to put in such practice? Colvin says that it must come from intrinsic, not extrinsic, motivation.  And he has a chapter on the most crucial ingredient in this mix:  passion.  In his chapter on passion, he states:  “The consistent finding reported by many researchers examining domains is that high creative achievement and intrinsic motivation go together. Creative people are focused on the task (How can I solve this problem?) and not on themselves (What will solving this problem do for me?)” (pp. 188-189).

The best ideas and observations from the best business books really do tie together.  Jim Collins in Good to Great describes the Hedgehog Concept, in which the first circle is this: “What are you passionate about?” And now, a new book by “one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and innovation,” Ken Robinson, is entitled: the Element:  How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.  (the Element is my selection for the May First Friday Book Synopsis).   He states:  “I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.” Passion is truly a dominant theme in current business thinking.

So — here is the question that we each need to ask: What do I care deeply enough about that I am willing to put in significant time, over the long haul, to get better at it? Even if the time I put in is not necessarily fun.

So: What are you passionate about?

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