Economic growth and business sustainability depend on the entrepreneurial drive needed to successfully exploit new business models and innovations. And conventional wisdom has it that ‘passion’ is the key ingredient needed to fuel this drive.
For would-be entrepreneurs and for business leaders needing to drive entrepreneurial initiatives in their organizations this can be off-putting – leading to the question ‘Do I really need to be another Steve Jobs to succeed?’
Encouragement for the daunted comes from new research by Matthias Spitzmuller of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and colleagues, who counter the conventional wisdom and suggest that investing effort in a new venture or product is actually what matters and that passion is secondary.
Previous research has followed the late Steve Jobs' line when he once said, “If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” This has cemented the belief that it is entrepreneurial passion that motivates individuals to invest effort in a new venture. But the problem with passion as a motivator is that it is unpredictable, depending as it does on emotions rather than reason and is as likely to ignite as to die away – as Shakespeare noted: ‘What to ourselves in passion we propose – the passion ending, doth the purpose lose.’ (The Player King to Hamlet).
Spitzmuller and colleagues propose a more cool-headed theory of what drives entrepreneurship, which he explained in a conversation with Sarah Dowler for Smith Business Insight. Here are some edited extracts from their interview:
What we do shapes how we look at the World
We felt that the importance of passion and the emotional states of entrepreneurs was overstated in the existing literature on entrepreneurship.
What's been assumed by most of the existing research on is that emotions drive what we do. What we believe, however, is that ultimately it's much more under our own control, that what we do will shape how we look at the world and how passionate we are about things.
To test our predictions, we conducted a weekly field study over eight weeks with 54 entrepreneurs who reported entrepreneurial passion and effort. We also conducted an experiment in a lab setting to investigate the effect of effort on passion and the underlying psychological processes. The results showed that that entrepreneurial effort predicted changes in entrepreneurial passion. In other words, the main driver of success is how much effort you put into your venture; passion will ultimately follow from that.
Don’t wait for an epiphany
The message from the research is that you shouldn’t expect there’s one area that immediately gets all of your attention and that resonates with you. Even if you’re part of a venture team that doesn’t have a very exciting product that you can identify with, as long as you take a free decision to invest a lot of effort, chances are you’ll become passionate for your venture and ultimately be successful.
When I talk to my students, I often hear, “I don’t know what excites me.” It’s not so much a question of sitting under a tree and waiting for an apple to fall on you before you know what you’re excited about. You have to make a choice and invest in that choice, and ultimately you’ll find that passion will follow.
Discover your entrepreneurial greatness
What we really hope is that people realize that being a passionate entrepreneur is not something you’re just born with. If we think of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, some of the great entrepreneurs of our time, we think of these people as people with extraordinary gifts and talents that were born with this passion to do something.
Success is oftentimes just a function of getting your hands dirty and starting to invest into a venture that will eventually start to grow.
Access the research paper: I put in effort, therefore I am passionate: Investigating the path from effort to passion in entrepreneurship, Gielnik, M. M., Spitzmuller, M., Schmitt, A., Klemann, K., & Frese, M., Academy of Management Journal (2015, Vol. 58, No. 4, 1012–1031).