Passionately Logging In

The term “passion” is increasingly being overused, dotted around recruitment ads and peppered into motivational talks – as if the use of the word itself can somehow inspire an otherwise lifeless topic. I’m just not sure anymore whether “passion” is a good term to use without qualification. “Unbridled passion” is definitely undesirable in the workplace, I feel, so my tolerance for the term would be increased if we used it with the qualifier “bridled”. Imagine the job ad, if you will: “WE SEEK PEOPLE WITH BRIDLED PASSION” ie people who are not likely to be carried away by a fancy without consideration of the consequences, but are driven by strong, directed, thoughtful, disciplined energy – and personal commitment. What other qualifications for the term “passion” can you think of to make the usage more legitimate?


This banner caught my eye on the way to work this morning, epitomising the depths to which the word “passion” has sunk. It’s from a campaign for wholesome family oriented internet participation from the main Singapore grassroots/community development organisation, the People’s Association. It’s amusing in an odd sort of way, but speaks about a deeper trend we lament from time to time, the disjunction between the words we use (the spin) and the deeds we do (the delivery).

I’ve just been decidng not to participate in a project where I got a distinct feeling that when one party was using the term “strategy” they meant a form of words on a piece of paper (which could be drawn up by anybody, including an external consultant), whereas when I used it, I meant an instrument for guiding and determining actions, decisions, allocations of resources, prioritising.

We backed off from the project because we weren’t sufficiently confident we had enough shared understanding of the objectives with the project owner to ensure a real world delivery of value might be possible. They wanted a document. Not a strategy. And somehow, magically, this document would effect change. It’s almost as bad as thinking that you can buy KM by buying an IT system – maybe worse, because at least you can do more stuff with an IT system than a consultant’s report. I had another conversation this morning with a good friend, who had been asked to analyse the internal information needs of a prospective client for an intranet redesign – but he wasn’t allowed to go talk to anyone, or examine their existing content – just read and analyse the summary of the needs they had compiled.

It’s disheartening sometimes. One of my most depressing moments in being a KM consultant was a couple of years ago, sitting across the table from somebody who listened very carefully to what I had to say about the work that has to go in to support a successful KM initiative. I leaned back and said rhetorically, “Of course, you don’t need to worry about all that if you want your KM initiative to fail”. My interlocutor (who was in a fairly senior position in a very large, high profile organisation, not in Singapore) leaned forward, looked me in the eye and said “Sometimes you don’t want to succeed”. He then told me that he had to look like he was doing KM to satisfy one senior figure who thought it was important, but if he did it seriously, he’d disturb too many people and rock too many comfortable boats. So he wanted the spin, not the delivery.

Perhaps he’d like this banner.

3 Comments so far

Great post Patrick. Yes “passion” is being used all over the place, and I wonder if it means what it used to. I especially liked the “Sometimes you don’t want to succeed” part.

Posted on April 18, 2007 at 05:33 PM | Comment permalink

Matt Moore

Patrick - allow me to retort:

Posted on April 28, 2007 at 02:40 PM | Comment permalink

Good story. It could be that the senior figure who thought KM was important has this mental model: “I want to climb to the top of Mount Everest and take a photo, but I don’t really know how many people and how much equipment I need to bring with me.” Or it could be the interlocuter is just an obedient soldier, but does not have the courage to rock the boat and make a difference - which actually disqualifies him from being the “CKO”. “Wanting the spin but not the delivery” - spinning too much would make him giddy! smile

Posted on May 05, 2007 at 10:50 AM | Comment permalink

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