How Passion Leads Innovation

So many times we talk about Passion and I fear it's a concept that's agreed to logically, but a very difficult practice to follow.  When we educate people on a system for Innovation we teach, "Power to the Worker!"  "She/he closest to the work should make the decision to kill an idea."  "If no one has passion enough to volunteer for a project, then you don't do the project."

Innovation Passion and Success

The reason why we have such an incredible insatiable insistence about passion isn't just because we're a sort of "Freedom Fighter" group for business. (Though admittedly, we get close to the work ourselves and just find it to be way more fun...and it doesn't seem fair to keep that secret to ourselves.)  It's because there's loads and loads and loads of data behind the power of intrinsic motivation.

A couple of years ago we trudged through loads of academic articles (yes, that's tech mining :-) to do research on why people do what they do.  We were overwhelmed by the amount of articles written in support of intrinsic motivation.  I attached just 1 to give you a flavor for it:


In this specific article they look at young school kids and motivation.  You'll see a few things shine through in the finding. 

  • There is a strong NEGATIVE correlation between intrinsic motivation and preference for easy work. (Translation:  People that are intrinsically motivated would rather do real, meaningful "hard" work for a purpose.)
  • Over time, intrinsic motivation goes down.  (Translation:  When we started off - in school, in our career - we were ready to tackle the world because we wanted to.)
  • "...there was significant positive correlation between overall GPA and intrinsic motivation (r=.34, p < .001).  It is interesting to note that the correlation between extrinsic motivation and overall GPA was also significant but, in this case, negative (r = -.23, p < .01).  (Translation: The more you do extrinsic - rewards and incentives for performance, "bribes" or other things - the lower the performance!)

In recent weeks I've, in more than one case, instructed leaders to let their people choose their project, only to find out the following week that "management" decided to change assignments and that person X was better suited than person Y for a project.  And while that may be true, what that new person doesn't have is the drive of the volunteer --- and that passion, that intrinsic motivation --- that cannot be recreated or instilled.  

So the next time someone volunteers for a project - let them run with it --- even if they don't have the perfect resume.

The next time you find yourself appointing someone for a job -- take 60 seconds to find out if they love it.  And if they don't either help them see the cool part that you do or see if someone else loves it.

Because while you certainly can spend loads of time and energy trying to entice and bribe employees to do good work, you could let the people pick what they're passionate about...and let them freely give loads of time, energy and effort to something they love.