Everyone admires someone with tremendous passions, but if you have tremendous obsessions for the same things — you’re considered scary. It’s like the difference between a Renaissance man and a madman.
I understand this. I’ve accumulated many passions over the years, ranging from food and wine to fly-tying, snowboard instruction to cross-cultural communications. I can now sense when it’s happening. It’s that same sensation as falling in love for the first time. It’s euphoria coupled with a slight sense of reckless abandon. There’s nothing quite like it, for good and bad.
However, like falling in love, the passionate phase typically falls victim to life or business taking over. What was passion now becomes “work.”
Obsessions, on the other hand, are more persistent. An obsession with another person could get you arrested. But I would argue that an obsession in business can be much more important than a passion. From a personal branding perspective, a “passion for obsession” can be one of the most potent attributes in one’s professional portfolio.
Legendary Indy driver Mario Andretti best described it as “if everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
Many may be reading this, saying, “I’m happy just to have passionate employees — why do I need to staff up with high-maintenance people with professional OCD?”
In previous blogs, I discussed the necessity for enterprises to “swarm” innovation. This strategy requires high-performance teams focused on the creative disruption at hand during the most critical launch period. Experiences with such launches tell me that obsession is a critical skill set in leading and assembling those teams. Obsession, if not blinding, can be the insurance for not missing critical minutia or nuance that the passionate might not have.
Whether you are an “obsessed leader” or a “leader of the obsessed,” the challenge is one of being obsessed equally with the healthcare product or service and the thrill of the startup process. I say this because I’ve experienced far too many self-proclaimed “startup experts” who live for the thrill of launching a business but have little obsession with the product. The product becomes a vehicle for the startup euphoria but not the central driver of constructive relentlessness over time. Ergo, the words “exit strategy.”
This behavior does not come without its risks. As the opening graphic says, there is a fine line between the admiration for the passionate and the weirdness of the obsessed. As I’ve written before, the Hippocratic Oath can make any innovative obsession that could do emotional or physical harm even more suspect.
For example, in my most recent professional obsessions, I’ve sometimes found that some aspects of delegation become challenging. This manifests itself in the uncontrollable need to learn every part of the market, the product, the buying behavior, and the organization on my own with no other human filters. This contrasts with my professional passions, where I have been more than happy to have staff members conduct due diligence and report back to me with findings.
In my past writings, I’ve referred to the notion of “feral management” or the need for senior executives to embed themselves into the “wilds” of the industry and marketplace instead of the office’s civility. This is a critical element of obsession for firsthand, outside-in data.
Unfortunately, some subordinates may feel frustrated by what seems to be a lack of trust in them conducting research or due diligence as they usually would. Others may feel that the experiential hoarding of their superior is stifling their professional growth.
While human resources may argue otherwise in a world of burnout, this may not be the time to pull back on obsession! It is time to expand it by building a cross-functional team that is equally inspired and driven by a compulsion for innovation.
At the proverbial end of the day, passion may simply not be enough.
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