Analytics: What’s Passion Got to Do with It?

February 14, 2012
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Long, long ago, in a land far, far away, there were frogs. Lots and lotsa frogs. Oh, the frogs were really beautiful princesses and handsome princes, but you’d never know it. They never got around to any kissing! Why not? They must have lacked passion.

Long, long ago, in a land far, far away, there were frogs. Lots and lotsa frogs. Oh, the frogs were really beautiful princesses and handsome princes, but you’d never know it. They never got around to any kissing! Why not? They must have lacked passion.

Wait a minute. That’s not quite right. It wasn’t long, long ago. This story takes place right now. And it isn’t far, far away, it’s here, in Chicago where I’m writing, and there, in New York, Silicon Valley, Mumbai, wherever you are reading this. And they aren’t frogs, exactly, they are people, many people, regular-looking people (not froggy at all, really.) All of these people have the potential to be more successful in business than they are today. In a sense, they are potentially the princesses and princes of the business world. But something is holding them back.

What’s standing between the princess and success? Is she waiting around for a handsome prince to ride in on a white horse and sweep her off her feet? Not in this story. This is about business, thank you very much. Yet there is a romantic fantasy involved. This fantasy is the tale of “Passion.”

Passion, the tale says, is a necessity for success. Many people never get their businesses or careers off the ground – because they are waiting around to discover their passion. Equating passion with how you should earn a living or whom you should hire is a strategy that won’t work any better than waiting for your perfect mate to ride in on a white steed. Despite this, “passion” is becoming a big buzzword in analytics.

Ladies and gentlemen of the analytics community, show me the evidence that supports your obsession with passion. How do you measure passion? What analysis supports the claim that passion is necessary, or even valuable, to business success?

Why is Meta being such an evil Queen today?  Why is she badmouthing a treasured business fairytale?

A few years ago, I asked someone about a role her company was trying to fill. “What do you think it’s really important for this person to have?” I asked.  “Passion,” she said. Passion? It was a software marketing job.  I researched the market for her software – as far as I could tell, there was none. Would passion change that? It has been a few years, and I haven’t heard the company mentioned since, so – I guess not.

Days after that story took place, someone described me as “passionate.” (They were talking about work, mind you.) I was speechless. I wouldn’t describe myself as passionate, and I would know. There’s a difference between giving a damn and passion, for heaven’s sake.

Since then, the talk of passion has become ever more common in the analytics trade. People, please give it a rest! The object of analytics is to give us a rational basis for decision making, not encourage fantasies in the workplace.

Doubt me? Let’s look at a profession that is dripping with passion – acting. You know some actors, don’t you? They’re passionate, right? They proudly call themselves actors even when they aren’t earning bupkis, even when they are paying the bills waiting tables or selling software. They devote themselves to their craft; invest effort, time and money in training. Yet only a precious few ever earn a living from all that passion.

Consider, if you will, the actuaries. Nobody ever called an actuary passionate, at least not in front of me. They care about their work, and like actors, they invest heavily in their own professional development. Unlike actors, actuaries are consistently able to earn a good living. People are willing to pay them well because their work offers concrete, measurable value to employers and clients.

Friends, get over your passion fantasies. If you want to be a success in business, get off your trunk and do something. Stop waiting to feel passionate about it. Instead, find something your prospective customers care about – care enough to pay – and do that well. If you need to hire, focus on what you need done, and hire a real person with a decent work ethic who can do the job. You’re not making any money while you wait around hoping to hire the business equivalent of Prince Charming.

You care about analytics? Then care about analytics, and the rational thought processes that go with it. Get your head out of the romance novels, and get down to work.

 

©2012 Meta S. Brown