Passion, Pragmatism & Purpose

One of my main tenets is that we all spend way too much time at work to spend it doing something we don’t love.  A prime tool I developed to help people get to loving their work is the Opportunity Matrix – it’s an analysis spreadsheet the that helps individuals find the best blend of what I call Passion and Pragmatism in the projects they take on.

A problem I’ve had with using it is that individuals generally ‘get’ the desire to be doing something they love.  Organisations tend to be a little less sympathetic – unless they can see clearly how that ‘passion’ will translate into the bottom line.  After all, they are largely beholden to shareholders, who swap the use of their money for better returns than they can get in the bank.

In small privately-held businesses, the shareholders and the people running the business are often the same, so that kind of “do what you love” approach can be OK.  But in larger corporate organisations, where the shareholders are at arm’s length to the management, it can be a lot harder to use “because it’s what we want to do” as a realistic criterion for taking on a project.

And actually (based to a large extent on my own experience!), even in smaller businesses there are usually stakeholders who find the ‘because I love it’ justification hard to swallow.  “Sorry dear, we’ll have to take little Johnnie out of private school, I’m just having too much fun!”  “No Susie, you can’t have a pony, Daddy’s enjoying himself too much.”  Hmmm … not going to play well at home is it?

So, if ‘passion’ isn’t a realistic criterion, how do we stop it all being about the money, all ‘pragmatism’?  Because that doesn’t work either, at least not in the long term – that way lies burn-out or teetering on the ethical brink.  And unhappy employees, never mind business owners, will eventually lead to very unhappy shareholders and stakeholders.

What leads to a happy and effective team is not that they take pleasure in their work,   it’s that they find meaning in their work.  And that is an important part of how I define “Passion” – it is both something you enjoy doing, and it’s in service of something that matters to you.  The focus on the fun part of passion, rather than purpose, is like the difference between pleasure and enjoyment: one will create a superficial positive outcome, the other creates something deep and lasting (I wrote on the difference between pleasure and enjoyment here).

When someone sees purpose in their work, it is easy to deal with those parts that are less pleasant; they are willing to sacrifice a little immediate pleasure for the deeper joy of a meaningful achievement.

And, at the organisation level, even the hardest-headed CEO or CFO will understand that the organisation needs to fulfill its purpose. If they’ve done their job of differentiating the business well, that’s what the shareholders bought into anyway (as well as the financial returns, of course).

So for an organisation to blend purposeful Passion and Pragmatism makes perfect sense to everybody.

The next challenge, of course, is to get the organisational purpose and the purposes of the various members of its team to resonate with each other – and that’s where the other parts of my work, especially Core Process and Talent Dynamics, come in.

So my challenge for you this week is: how well does your organisational purpose resonate with your personal passion and purpose, and those of the people you work with, clients and colleagues?

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About The Author

Andrew Horder

Founder of Joyful Genius Coaching, Andrew has been working with business owners for many years, helping them find and maintain their unique focus - those activities and opportunities that they love, and will produce their success, what Andrew calls your Joyful Genius! Andrew's first book, The A to Z of Loving Work is available from Amazon

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