'The Passion of the Explorer' - passion and performance at work with John Hagel

On Friday (Valentines Day, explaining the rose above) we attended a breakfast event at Hub Sydney where John Hagel (@jhagel) spoke about his research and insights on the topic of 'passion at work' (#passionatwork). The event was hosted and organised by Annalie Killian and the AMP innovation team who run Samplify events between AMP's biennial Amplify Festival (@AmplifyFest) of innovation and thought leadership. Thanks again to Amplify Festival for bringing John to Australia. So..

Who is John Hagel?

John Hagel III is a business and technology thinker who has authored multiple business strategy publications - most recently The Power of Pull - and advises some of the world's largest companies via the Deloitte Centre for the Edge.

Hagel famously coined the concepts of 'the edge' and 'the core' as ideas related to innovation in organisations (read more about this via Harvard Business Review) and his writing has had a strong influence over management vernacular - think 'edge thinking', 'out of the box' and 'small moves, smartly made' - for example.

The subject of his talk on Friday - 'The Passion of the Explorer' is set to be just as influential in management and organisational development.

'Sustained extreme performance improvement'

Is there anyone out there - employer, employee, or simply human - that doesn't like the sound of that?!

Having studied many 'arenas' of work and play through the lens of performance, Hagel's thesis is that 'sustained extreme performance improvement' is found in individuals who display attributes of 'The Passionate Explorer'. Arenas he mentioned where sustained extreme performance improvement are evident are extreme sports including big wave surfing and online gaming for example World of Warcraft.

Attributes of The Passionate Explorer

1. Questing Disposition

The passionate explorer experiences excitement when faced with enormous or unexpected challenges. So much excitement that they actively seek out these kinds of challenges. They see it as a call to adventure, a call for creativity and an opportunity to push boundaries. Think about the difference in motivation between readying to go on a quest and an ordinary day at your desk.

2. Commitment to the Domain

The passionate explorer has a long-term commitment to their domain - usually it's for life. They have a commitment not just to learn about the domain but an inclination toward finding and overcoming challenges in their domain in order to make a difference. They will apply pace and balance in order to commit themselves - it's a marathon, not a race, for them.

3. Connecting Disposition

When faced with a challenge, the passionate explorer's immediate instinct is to look around for assistance or allies. Rather than retreating or entering a solitary endeavour, they will seek to find experts, those with relevant experience or those with equal passion. In fact, this might be seen as the paradox of the passionate explorer - that they are intensely competitive but also intensely collaborative.

So what does it all mean ?

The benefits of studying human motivation and passion in this way are obvious to anyone who has experienced or witnessed the capacity of individuals and teams who work with passion and/or intrinsic motivation.

I couldn't help but notice, though, that the examples of passionate explorers John called upon were people performing distinctly non-market activities - gaming and extreme sports. Perhaps a small percentage had been able to turn this passion into their profession, but the fact remained that the 'passion of the explorer' was easy to find outside work but largely absent in the corporate environment. Further reading into John's work reveals that he recognises this, that:

- a Deloitte survey found that only 11% of people are passionate about their work
- organisations are engineered to maximise efficiency and eliminate variance (aka creative risk-taking)
- many companies are hostile environments to people displaying 'passion of the explorer attributes' (they will typically struggle with clearly defined roles, organisational silos, predictability)

Hagel's work will help large organisations that wish to emulate the conditions of the passion of the explorer in their workplaces and benefit from the sustained performance improvement that these individuals undergo.  To counter the cultural resistance to passionate explorers, Hagel encourages a redesign of work environments 'physical, virtual and systemic'.  

Is it possible?

Here at Wildwon, we think that companies will have to do more to cultivate and nurture worker passion than redesign their work environments. The attributes we've heard about are present when a person has a fire burning inside them, which comes from somewhere else entirely.

So how do you light a fire and stoke it? We think this has something to do with the alignment of passion and purpose and as long as the corporate world lacks purpose - aka lacks focus on the 'end game' or 'so what factor' of any pursuit - it will be a struggle to engineer this passion inside the corporate world. 

We'll have to wait and see.

Sally Hill can be found at @sallyrhill and on LinkedIn. To work with the team at Wildwon contact us here.