Stop for a second. I could almost bet money that you read this title and instantly thought about open source communities. Of course it’s entirely possible that inclination towards open source is entirely my own due to my deep and enduring focus on building lasting communities and the power of open source. But I have to believe that within all of us there is a notion that passionate people belong in communities. We naturally associate the outpouring of passionate work with volunteers. But as I asked at the outset of this post — I’d like you to stop and think more about this.

The composition of a passionate person

Let’s start by exploring what the make-up of a passionate person actually looks like. We are I am sure all familiar with the rather standard top three dictionary definitions of passion; but if we look down the list a little further we’ll see other common definitions. One in particular stands out to me:

passion [pash-uh n]: (6) A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. —

So our standard notion of passion needs to be expanded for our everyday understanding and usage. In practice then a passionate person is one who exhibits strong enthusiasm for something. This is the idea we are taking into consideration today when discussing the composition of a passionate person. Someone who is crazy over accomplishing their mission. A person seen as extravagant and maniacally focused for their impassioned actions.

But there’s something else that’s relevant when discussing the constitution of a person exhibiting extraordinary zeal for a subject. An individual may demonstrate this level of fervor in one area of their life while trudging through the mundane daily rituals of a dozen others. In essence what I am suggesting then is an individual can be both passionate and dispassionate, depending on their environment and any particular facet of their life. There is no overarching global “passionate” status whereby people are measured.

Passion therefore is not contingent solely on the person but also on the particular aspect being evaluated with the person. The responsibility for passionate behavior lies not only with the person but also within the object eliciting the passion. (whew, that was deep!)

Power exists within everyone

Every person contains some element of power within them. This power takes on a variety of forms and is exhibited in a variety of ways depending on circumstances and settings. Power in the sense of energy, strength, mental efficacy, etc… We all have a propensity for exhibiting strength and we seek out ways to showcase or prove our power. As humans we have an instinctive desire to find outlets by which this (and by extension ourselves) can be validated.

Applying these principles

Now if we take these concepts and put them into practice what we find is a rather natural conclusion. When a person is empowered they exhibit greater passion. Their built-in desires have been fulfilled and this causes feelings of excitement and enthusiasm (aka passion). In this way then we can see a virtuous circle begin to form. The more empowerment felt, the greater the excitement.

As you can see from the previous paragraph this lends itself first and foremost to communities. In these circumstances individuals are able to be promoted purely based on a concept of meritocracy. This isn’t of course as easily reconciled in standard business environments. This is due in part to the injection of monetary reward (every job pays a salary) and the instant that some fiat currency is introduced into the equation the predilection is completely shifted off of empowerment and passion. But perhaps this shouldn’t be assumed so quickly.

Starting with why

If you’ve read my blog at all in the past you know I have a borderline obsession with the concept of starting with why (Hat tip to Simon Sinek for introducing me to this concept). Obviously this applies rather easily to community environments where individuals volunteer their time and join a particular “tribe” because they have an enthusiasm for the shared central tenets of the group. But applying these same concepts to a “for-pay” business arrangement it becomes even more interesting.

In this compensated environment “starting with why” begins to rebalance the equation. When a business is able to start by sharing their vision and the reason behind the mission they are undertaking they are able to identify those eager individuals interested in fighting for the same beliefs. In this way, even businesses can begin to build a culture and an organization which forms a tribe instead of merely providing an occupation. And things begin to change.

Empowered employees

The best and most incredible companies are those who have discovered this principle. These are bastions of business who are intent on building an empire. A company that is “built to last”. This is by no means an easy task and for every single success story there are hundreds of corporate carcasses strewn by the side. This is such a rare trait we frequently celebrate those who have discovered this holy grail of passionate, empowered workers. We study them in business schools and we analyze their every move. Too often in doing so we take a far to analytical approach and quickly neglect the rather intangible values which have predicated such success in the first place.

But there are enough of these exceptions to the standard to lend credibility to the possibilities. And so we continue to strive. We strive to identify the roots for success, and we strive to implement them in our own businesses. And although this success looks different for each business the common thread of empowered employees lies at the heart of most.

Empowered employees are those imbued with passion for the vision and motivated by the same foundational “why” as the business.

More than monetary gain

I think it is only appropriate to end this post with one last commendation. While the reasoning I have listed above tends to appear at first blush to serve only the needs of the business and encourage financial reward, the truth is much, much greater. Far more than any balance sheet, or revenue bookings, these passionate people build companies which stand against the test of time, providing futures for thousands of others. Creating opportunities for the improvement of life and the enablement for personal success.

What is the true power of passionate people? As the famous Mr. Jobs shared in the now timeless motivational video: These “crazy” ones are the ones who change the world.