Like an unstable chemical compound, passion and conviction, i.e. love, can be either a powerful potion or a toxic stew. In our personal and professional lives, there are countless examples where love’s gone awry, blowing up in our faces. Chances are, you have experienced this yourself. It’s a hard lesson to learn, taking a risk, investing energy and emotion into an idea, only to be let down and disappointed when things don’t work out, often for reasons that don’t make sense or are beyond your control.
Yet when the formula does work, it can lead to a transformative moment – that breakthrough, next big idea, or the game changer. The successful entrepreneurs worshipped in our society, from Branson to Blakely, Sinha to Zuckerberg, all demonstrate real passion for their ideas. Often we model our own behavior off what we believe our business superheroes are doing, taking big risks demonstrating a hyper-focused love for an idea.
Unlike our heroes however, we mere mortals often confuse how passion and conviction, the ‘love’ for an idea, can blind you to the realities of consumer and business truths instead of making you the next innovator. It is a Catch-22, you have to take the risk, otherwise you won’t generate a great new product or service. Yet, like a slightly obsessed lover, you may not be able to take a hint, or let go when the idea is flawed. In our personal lives, flawed love matches create personal heartache, but in business, it can be a real drain.
When I first started Ignite 360, I was in love with the idea to provide live-streaming from our in-homes using technology sending signals direct from our video cameras over wireless networks to the internet where it could be watched on a secure site by our clients. It was a risk for sure. The technology hadn’t been used like this before. Clients hadn’t experienced it. We weren’t sure if it would work, which merely heightened the attraction. We branded it Stanley TV. While I’d love to say it was a huge it, we ended up in ‘beta’ for several years. The technology we based it on is used by local TV stations to be live on the scene of a fire or in front of City Hall. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t able to send a stable signal from inside a building like a person’s suburban home or urban apartment where cell coverage is spotty. That led to some misfires where clients had gathered to view but instead saw frozen images or static if they saw anything at all. Despite ongoing setbacks, I insisted we keep going, determined that it could work and recognizing the power of the idea due to ever shrinking client travel budgets and the empathic impact of ethnographic work. I was in love with this idea of delivering a service where clients were able to sit in a conference room and watch us do our work thousands of miles away.
It took me four years of trial and much error, when I had to finally accept that the idea was either ahead of its time or beyond what was possible. It was disappointing to have to let the idea go. I rationalized that it was better to have a stable service that clients can rely on rather than something shaky and unreliable that was more promise than proof. So Stanley TV is on my ‘shelf of good ideas’ – a repository of former loves that can be revisited and resuscitated when the time is right.
So what is one to do when you are passionate about an idea but it doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction? Keep the relationship to your idea healthy.
1. Ground Down in Reality
An idea can’t become real unless you’ve built it from the ground up – what’s the business challenge that this idea you are so passionate about will solve? What makes it better than other approaches? Consider the other angles or ways of solving the problem. What makes this the right approach?
2. Listen to Outsiders
Are you really listening to what you need to hear or what you want to hear? Passionate people often put blinders on and either won’t listen to what consumers have to say, or do so with selective hearing. In the end, you are only hurting yourself and your business. Your customer knows themselves better than you do. Are you willing to let them open your eyes?
3. Recalibrate Your Message
Are you providing the right information to enroll your stakeholders to your idea? Consider their point of view, what might be missing that would get them to an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’? Is your own enthusiasm appropriately tempered or are you being a little too much cheerleader and not enough captain of the team?
4. Be Open to Rejection
It sucks, none of us likes it, but it is part of life. Try to take it as a learning experience. What was the rationale given for the rejection? What could you do better next time? Is this a forever ‘no’ or just ‘no for right now’? And don’t take it personally, you might have better success with the next one.
Passion and conviction, the love of an idea, is a necessary risk to take at work. Conviction is what your superiors see in your eyes when you are pitching an idea. It’s the spark that ignites when the data in your head strikes the knowing in your heart. And when you know something to be true, it’s that much harder to challenge it.
Passion keeps you going, pushing the boulder uphill. Yet it needs to be modulated appropriately so that you don’t lose your objectivity. Both are risky but without the risk, there can be no reward.
So go ahead, fall in love with your next big idea. Just make sure you keep the relationship healthy.
Here are some other ideas on innovation that I love right now: