Creating a Passion Economy

How many times since President Kennedy rallied the collective passion of our nation to send a man safely to the moon, have you heard someone say, “Where is our moon mission? Where is our passion?" We commit to our passions. We invest our minds, our time, and our resources in passions and passionate people.

We will create a more prosperous economy and stronger communities when we enable connections between passionate people and create an environment where innovators can more easily pursue their passions. Knowledge and networks are important enablers but passion is the secret sauce.

We need to move from a knowledge-based economy to a passion-based economy. Who gets excited about a knowledge-based economy? Where is the passion? I have spent a ton of time and effort to rally the troops. If I am honest, people just haven't connected emotionally. The knowledge-based economy has given us the tools we need but has fallen short in solving the real issues of our time including health care, education, energy independence, public safety, and quality of life. These are all systems issues that will require systems solutions. Systems level innovation requires passionate leaders and organizations that are committed to a cause. Passion-based organizations stop at nothing to accomplish their goals and are able to attract people and resources to their causes. A passion economy can arise that unleashes both a new era of prosperity and solutions for the big issues of our time.

Yesterday in a twitter exchange, my friend Jana Eggers, who I met when she ran the Innovation Lab at Intuit and now is the CEO of Spreadshirt, shared her 2009 marathon and iron man competition schedule. I was exhausted just thinking about it. "It turned into a passion," she said. "I go overboard on passion."

That got me thinking. Over all of my years as an innovation junkie, the common denominator, among the innovators I have connected with and the most successful enterprises I have observed and worked with, is passion. They started with a passion or cause and then organized around it to make it happen. Not the other way around.

I first met the famous ocean explorer, Titanic discoverer, and BIF advisor Bob Ballard in his office at the Mystic Aquarium. I will never forget his passion. He called me over to a wall that was a huge topographic map of the ocean floor. We sat on the floor in front of the map and Bob took me on a tour of the ocean's many mysteries. He shared with me his infectious passion to transform education and to get kids excited about science again by making the ocean's secrets accessible to every school age child. The Inner Space Center he is creating to bring ocean exploration to every classroom is amazing.

I had the identical experience at dinner with Dean Kamen when he shared his passion with me for getting every school age child involved in his FIRST Robotics program. I went to the finals one year and was blown away that it filled the Georgia Dome with motivated kids from around the world learning math and science experientially by competing in a fun robotics competition. Parents and sponsors were screaming in the stands. If you closed your eyes you would have thought you were at a sold-out sports event. Imagine what we could accomplish if we reinforced and supported science competitions the way we support sports.

I see the same passion in many business leaders too. Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Jason Fried and 37 Signals, Shai Agassi with Better Place just to name a few. They are building enterprises based on a passion and clear point-of-view. They are masters at attracting interest and participation in their passions. They all are active collaborators always looking to extend their ideas and networks. Companies built around a passion like these examples do not need traditional marketing departments. Their employees and customers buy in to the cause and become the marketing and advertising department. It is amazing to see how they attract new ideas, employees, and customers by leveraging social network platforms to share their passion openly with others.

My friend and BIF advisor Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company and author of Mavericks at Work, says it well: “It's about having a distinctive point-of-view and a passion for where your company and industry can and should be going.” As I think about the successful leaders that I have connected with through our work at the Business Innovation Factory they all share the same attribute, a passion for their cause. It is the same for leaders of both for-profit and non-profit business models. I push the idea even further to suggest that the biggest value creating ideas will be found in the gray areas between sectors, silos, and disciplines. We need passionate leaders that can get below the buzzwords of public-private partnerships to enable system level innovation in the areas that matter the most. Both the public and private sector needs it to happen and both will benefit from a shift toward a passion-based economy.

Tom Friedman in his latest book Hot, Flat, and Crowded calls for an energy revolution: “we need 100,000 people in 100,000 garages trying 100,000 things,” he writes. In addition to the energy revolution, I think we need a similar passion-driven revolution in health care and education. A passion-driven economy with a focus on areas of critical social needs will attract ideas, innovators, and resources to create new system level solutions to deliver value to the patient, student, and citizen. It will also strengthen our economy, creating prosperity and new job opportunities.

If your organization is blindly vested in the way you do business today, it is a good time to explore and test new models and systems with a clear passion at the core. If your organization is determined to resist change, move out of the way because the wisdom of crowds has learned how to mobilize behind a compelling passion. These new purposeful networks will not be stopped.

At the Business Innovation Factory we believe that the half-life of business models is declining. BIF has a passion to help organizations explore and test new business models and systems level innovation. To borrow from Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School and BIF advisor, I have a point of view but I know I am missing something. Please join the conversation. The water is fine!


  • We've been amassing many passionate video stories over the years through our Innovation Story Studio. Watch for yourself and seeJana Eggers talk about creating the Innovation Lab at Intuit.Bob Ballard share inspirational stories on everything from the Titanic, to 12 foot worms at the bottom of the ocean, to his new Inner Space Center.Dean Kamen talk about his FIRST Robotics program and why kids should be idolizing great scientists the same way they do great basketball players.Tony Hsieh share insight on why culture is the most important component of building strong companies. Jason Fried riff on how to create an audience by teaching and sharing instead of spending money on traditional marketing.

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