In my years as a PR agency exec, I pitched and was pitched by hundreds of early stage, high-growth companies, from start-ups still in the garage to those further up the corporate lifecycle curve. I’ve seen some good ideas but I’ve seen precious few really good businesses. I think part of the reason for this is that I’ve met even fewer entrepreneurs or executives who could convince me that they had a genuine passion for the mission of their organization. To be sure, I’ve seen plenty of people positively brimming with passion for a quick exit by flipping their technological house of cards to the next greater fool. However, it was rare to encounter a client or prospect from whom I could feel the genuine electricity for an idea that only true passion can generate. In the intervening time, acres of pages both paper and digital have been devoted to the criticality of passion in successful entrepreneurship, to the point that I felt that mouthing the words “I have a passion for…” became a mere check box for the nascent entrepreneur. As a result, my “combat stance” has evolved over time to be one of hard-earned cynicism for all declarations of executive and corporate “passion.” My natural skepticism has dissipated in the last few months, however, as I’ve encountered more founders, executives and individuals -- young and “seasoned” -- in whom the sense of passion for their mission is palpable. I’ve met and worked with Silicon Valley social media founders who give off none of the Bubble Bandit funk of their forbearers. I’ve been impressed with the creativity and commitment of the overwhelming majority of the young companies represented in the 2010 MassChallenge. I’ve gotten to know a few established companies here in Boston whose successes result from an organization-wide commitment to a common mission. And I’ve reconnected with former colleagues who seem to have found their lives’ mission in nonprofit work, here and abroad. Very few of these people have actually had to say the words “I have a passion for...” You just know by sitting with them for thirty minutes – thirty highly energizing minutes.
Maybe I’m just getting more trusting as I see more companies appear and thrive that genuinely do change the way we live. Maybe it’s because the stakes for which we play today seem more rational in scope, more elementally human-scaled. Maybe it’s the era in which we live today – a natural evolution in the technology industry from an engineering-focused nerdocracy through the gold rush insanity of the Internet Bubble to the hands-across-the-universe openness of the hyper social present.
I really have no idea whether the change is coming from outside or internally. It doesn’t matter, though, as I have experienced a clear shift in outlook lately as a result of these new relationships and re-introductions. Today, I can feel their passion and totally believe in it. The energy is transferable, and I know I can invest a high level of trust in folks like these with the confidence that the investment will be repaid through their impact on the world in general and mine in particular.
[*Title mashup with apologies to The Clash …WWJSD, right?]