When I first began to study entrepreneurship, I would never have predicted I would focus on the topic of entrepreneurial passion. Passion seemed like a given in the startup world. It’s a basic ingredient—like salt in food—so common that it would not be a factor in differentiating success from failure. Besides, passion already gets more than its fair share of air time among the great Motivational Media—the hype-driven websites, magazines, books, and videos that have made you-can-do-it success stories into a kind of cult religion for wanna-be entrepreneurs.
But there is no getting around it. Every great venture I’ve studied has propelled itself forward with an unshakeable sense of commitment, a kind of rapturous belief among core founders.
The reason is clear. The startup path is not for the faint of heart. Ask successful entrepreneurs to reflect back on their journey and an unequivocal response comes back: I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea it would be this hard. In the words of technology blogger Dave McClure, “You are going to be embarrassed, ashamed, labeled as an idiot, shunned, ridiculed, and occasionally driven from the village with pitchforks. Get used to it.”
So, qualities that sustain and energize — qualities like commitment, hope, belief, confidence, determination and resilience (couldn’t resist a favorite cartoon here) — these are like oxygen to the new founder. They will sustain and speed you through the inevitable roller-coaster of thrills, doubts and hardships to appear along your startup pathway.
But when it comes to launching a new business, passion is a double-edged sword: It is
(a) absolutely essential
(b) dangerous and limiting.
When I was in Milwaukee in early December, attending the phenomenally valuable Pow-Wow put on by the industry-leading visionaries at 800-CEO-READ (if you like books and business, learn everything you can about 8CR), I stopped by their offices to say a few words about my upcoming book, 6 Secrets to Startup Success, and its core premise, a pattern I call the Passion Trap.