Passion: Blinded or Balanced
- Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D
Ann Marie Sastry has a big idea. With over 70 patents and 80 scientific publications to her credit, she describes herself as a “happy warrior who's driven by doing the next new thing.” That drive leads her to put in 100 hour work weeks and spend over two decades in pursuit of developing new battery technology application for use in electric vehicles. She's scrapped the traditional chemical lithium technology to rethink the basics of energy, power, mass, volume, cost and safety, all in search of a new approach. She's also raised $30 million from a variety of backers in support of her grand idea.
Sastry has an entrepreneurial zeal for her product that compels her to pursue any and every approach and perspective to accomplish her goal. She has a passion and optimism for success that propels her forward, and expects that within a year or two her product will be in full production. But for every successful entrepreneur, there are many more whose dreams never turn into reality. That's because the same passion that propels her forward with a clear focus on success, can be blinding to others and cause them to miss the obvious cues that unfortunately their grand idea won't get off the ground.
An article in the Wall Street Journal on “How an Entrepreneur's Zeal Can Destroy a Startup” by Noam Wasserman provides perspective on the negative effects of such passion. It's displayed in the many mistakes founders make in starting their business including lack of technical or scientific experience, management experience, and connections with investors and potential customers. They significantly underestimate the time and resources needed to get the business running, and the toll it will take on their family relationships.
Interestingly, one study showed that when 800 founders' startup ideas were assessed and given feedback on the feasibility and next steps of their business, of those who received a recommendation that their ideas wasn't commercially viable, 29% continued to invest money, and 51% continued to invest time in developing their ideas. The obvious question at this point is why someone would continue to pursue a venture when they're highly unlikely to succeed. The authors suggest that these individuals had overwhelming optimism in their potential for success, coupled with a reluctance to give up after already investing so much time and money. In short, they were blinded by their passion.
Founders are often driven by a desire to make a mark in their world. They believe that their idea will play an important role in their environment or society, and feel compelled to pursue it. Their passion becomes the focal point of their thought process as they guide their lives to accomplish their dream. Passion managed appropriately can have a positive impact; while unchecked and unbalanced passion may lead to negative behaviors and consequences. Passion for an initiative can open one's eyes to new possibilities, but it can also blind one to the potential difficulties of pursuing it. Passion can drive entrepreneurs to sacrifice the presumed comfort of a steady paycheck to pursue their business startups, but it can also put their finances, families and future at risk.
Thus, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. So how do you know if your passion is out of balance?
• Do you have the support of your family? Or are you sacrificing too much time with your family to pursue your passion? Is your significant other supportive, or asking you to redirect your time and energy? Or talk about?
Many entrepreneurs fail to be honest with themselves and their loved ones about the commitment required to pursue their dream.
Do you have the resources to support it? Do you have sufficient finances for your personal living expenses? Are you draining your retirement savings? How are you funding this venture, and how much are you willing to invest and borrow to determine if it has a chance of success?
• Does it help build positive relationships? Or, do your friends and colleagues avoid you because this is the only thing you talk about? Engaging in conversations on a variety of topics with individuals from various backgrounds can serve as a creative catalyst, versus being singularly focused on your project.
• Do you have the skillset to accomplish it? Or are you able to gather others around you with the right skillset to support your efforts? Too many entrepreneurs try to do it all when in reality they need to surround themselves with a people who possess a variety of skillsets and needs that will evolve over time.
• Does it meet a need, fill a void, or satisfy a desire in the marketplace? What may seem like a wonderful idea to you, may lack sufficient value to others. Are people really willing to invest in it or pay for it?
If you responded “no” to any of these primary questions, this is the time to think carefully about what you're doing and find a way to balance your passion. This is the time to make sure your zeal is not overshadowing reality, and focus on initiatives where you CAN be successful, where you CAN fulfill your responsibilities to family and friends, where your talents CAN be most valued.
Never give up on your passion. Simply maximize it and apply it where it will be most beneficial. Whether your passion is focused on an entrepreneurial venture, a great new idea for a process or product within your organization, a pastime or hobby, or a business initiative, balance is the key.