Passion is Overrated: Focus on the 5 Cs for Social Impact instead – Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion

Passion is Overrated: Focus on the 5 Cs for Social Impact instead – Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with an incredible group of smart, creative students who are here in Redmond competing at the U.S. finals of the Imagine Cup. I shared with them my view that passion is simply not enough to succeed.

Every day at least one person tells me about their passion to make a difference.  I have always been confused about why people feel passion is such a critical component for them.  Why do they need to feel passionate about the work they do, or that they must have some passion in their life?  Students are taught to talk and write about their passion.  When we go for a job interview we talk about our passion.  It seems that passion is an overused and overrated word.  Now don't get me wrong, I too exude passion when I talk about the work I do.  But passion alone is just  not enough.

When people come to see me seeking to join my team, I don't ask them how passionate they are about making a difference, instead I ask them to share with me any difference they may have already made, however small or insignificant it might be.  This is a far more insightful way to discover their strengths and weaknesses.

I believe that success in any career is dependent on more than passion. 

If you are serious about making a difference I recommend that you focus on what I call the 5 Cs:  Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion.  This may not be as sexy as passion but I guarantee you it will drive a greater and more lasting impact.

Let me elucidate a bit. 

To make an impact in anything, whether starting a lemonade stand or deciding to give up all your possessions and move to another country to work in a rural environment, one must first and foremost have conviction - a belief in an idea, a product or a service that you are willing to focus on. 

Most of us have a new idea every minute but it's conviction that allows us to sieve through these ideas and settle on one that we are willing to pursue; one that is well thought out.  

Once you have 'the idea' you then need to have the capability and the right skills to take that idea further.  For example:  you may have an idea to develop a system for water purification but unless you have  some knowledge of the issue or the willingness to put in the time to acquire the expertise, the idea will not progress.  Deep knowledge and skills are critical before embarking on implementing 'the idea'.  

Once you know you have the skills to take your idea further you then need the capacity and the ability to put your ideas and skills to work - this means you have now taken the hard step of figuring out a plan of action and have the capacity to put that plan into practice.  

The fourth 4 C is, in my opinion, is often the hardest to undertake and sustain - commitment.  You must combine the ability to take the plan and make it work with  the strength and resolve needed to stay the course.  There will always be obstacles and setbacks to overcome.  This is where most give up.  But to succeed you must make a commitment to stay the course, not fear failure, and learn from your mistakes - which are an inevitable part of making a difference.  With commitment you will try new avenues no matter what.  There are no short cuts. 

Finally, it is about compassion.  You need to develop your ability to think beyond a narrow impact into a realm where you think beyond yourself and immediate context.  Now you are becoming conscious of the community around you and the impact your work will have - both good and bad.  You are focused on developing insight into any potential unintended consequences of your actions. 

When you combine the 5 Cs you have the opportunity to drive sustainable, real, positive change.  Passion is a personal pursuit, it is important but the combination of Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion are the essential elements to getting real results.  

When you understand and accept these demands you will be in a far better position to succeed in what you do, enjoy what you do and have a fulfilling experience at the same time.  If that is your definition of  passion then so be it. 

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  • Thank you for sharing that great insight. I love when I feel passionate about something. There's so much to distract me from what I truly care about. But taking the passion to that next level is another matter, as you say.

  • Thank you for the generosity of your wisdom.  As I look forward to translate what I bring to opportunities, this framework helps me to better communicate, in laymen's term, what does it mean to "lead change", "lead people" be "results driven", to have "business acumen" and "build coalitions".  It is about making the difference that translates into "social impact" .  Thanks :-)