Introducing Passion Management

Last week, I highlighted the key takeouts from the ignite the passion from within series. Now that the fire is lit, it is now time to look at how an organization can manage the amplification of this passion. Albert Einstein put it brilliantly: “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Some unknown genius put it simply: “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.” It’s hard to put it any better: These two bits of timeless wisdom capture the spirit of the times in which we work, compete, and lead. 

We are living through the age of transformation. You can’t do big things if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before.In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special. Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals, they redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking. 

Of course, it’s hard to do—which is why so few organizations ever truly break from the packand carve out a distinctive identity. Indeed, having worked in big corporates most of my adult life, I’ve always been struck by the slow-going rate of change inside most organizations. In the earliest days of working at CUB, after we had a business plan but before we launched i-nova (a global insights & innovation hub), we convened a conference around the theme, “How Do You Overthrow a Successful Company?”It wasn’t a gathering of hotshots eager to take on the corporate establishment. It was a gathering of big-picture thinkers and change agents from across the business who sensed that there were massive shifts on the horizon, but that there wasn’t a commitment among their colleagues to reckon with what was coming. 

It was a great conversation, ahead of its time in many ways (this was 2004)—and the outlookwas grim. Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, warned that “the role of big companies is to turn great people into mediocre organizations.”Mort Meyerson, the much-admired CEO and philanthropist, then at the helm of Perot Systems, compared leading an organization in fast-changing times to “floating in lava in a wooden boat.”His plea tothe group: “We need a new model to reach the future.” 

What a difference 15 years don’t make. Are those misgivings any less relevant today than they were back then, or the prospects for genuine transformation any less daunting? There’s nothing quiteas exhilarating as watching a young organization reshape its field (Swisse comes to mind)—a blank-sheet-of-paper startup that transforms an industry, a challenger brand that redefines a market. Alas, there’s nothing quite as common as watching an established organization—a company that reached great heights in one era of technology, markets, and culture—struggle to regain its stature as a force for leadership in a new era. The work of deep-seated, sustainable change remains the hardest work there is. 

That’s why, over the past two years, I have immersed myself writing blogs focusing on the struggles and triumphs of big organizations that are achieving dramatic results under some of the most trying conditions imaginable. I have observed the strategies and tactics of a diverse collection of innovators in a wide varietyof fields: The cutting-edge advertisers at TBWA Worldwide have learned to develop “fresh eyes” to look for disruptive ideas about what comes next; a high-profile Internet company that reinvented customer service for the digital ageand invented a powerful brand in the process; the irrepressible billionaire who rescued the Swiss watch industry from oblivion and transformed it into a global juggernaut; a 95-year-old hospital, based in one of America’s most distressed cities, that has redesigned how it works and what patients experience; the leader of one of the world’s most famous crime-fighting organizations, who has visited 125 countries in a crusade to transform how police respond to the threats of the 21st century. 

These innovators were not paralyzed by the degree of difficulty associated with their agenda.
In fact, they were energizedby it. They were making big things happen in new ways—unleashing innovations and driving transformations that will shape the fortunes of their organizations and the future of their fields. In the process, they developed a set of principles that define the work of leaders in every field. I will be delving into these principles over the next couple of months—simple rules for transforming your company, shaking up your industry, and challenging yourself. 

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