Is it possible to innovate without loving what you do?

I spotted this question on a Linkedin group and thought I post it here.

My answers is: Yes, it’s possible.

Interestingly, HBR posted an article about why you shouldn’t do what you love last week. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already.

Here’s the thing about innovation:

Most people who are considered innovative don’t really set out to ‘innovate’. They set out to solve a problem they have/saw because they either see nobody doing anything about it, or they are personally dissatisfied.

My thinking is that if you are a creative problem solver (like me), you are already committed. The act of solving a problem in a creative way (what you like) is the fire needed to take on whatever challenge is presented.

Being constantly challenged is what you like. The context and topic can be anything.

Whether it’s solving the energy problem, climate issues, education or whatever, you don’t necessarily have to be passionate about these topics. You just have to like solving interesting problems and contributing.

That’s your commitment.

This is how it is for me, but it’s certainly not true for everyone else. I’m curious to know, what do you think?

 

 

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  • Ned Kumar

    Hi Jorge,
    I agree with you that it is possible – but the dynamics will be different.

    When you don’t love or don’t have the passion for what you do, most innovations happen in a more structured manner. Meaning, you have an objective (problem to solve/issue to address) in mind and you apply your creativity and ingenuity towards coming up with an innovative solution.

    When you are passionate about something, you are constantly tinkering with it and so innovations in such cases are incremental with occasional “bing bang” ideas. If you are passionate about something, innovation is a by-product of wanting to do your best and wanting to learn more about it.

    Regards,
    Ned

    • Hi Ned (@nedkumar),

      It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you around here.

      Fully agree with you on this and a great way to put it. No doubt if you truly love something and are passionate about it, it’s easier to get there.

      I constantly get approached to work on things that I don’t necessarily like, but the act of ‘solving the problem’ is what fires me up. I guess that’s why I’m approached/invited in the first place 🙂

      My thinking is you have find what’s interesting to get you motivated (hard for most people to do) because people rarely work on the things they like. Just look at all the people who don’t like their jobs.

      Thanks for stopping by 😉

      Cheers,

      Jorge

  • Jorge, I think you can innovate without loving what you do, but as Ned says, it changes the dynamics. Somewhat related to the HBR article too, if you are not passionate about the ‘problem’; you may see facets of the problem that someone who is passionate about it won’t because they love the ‘thing’ and are blinded to aspects of it. You may be extra ‘critical’ which may translate into deeper critiquing. On the other hand, if you don’t love it, you may not have the drive to persevere through to solution(s).

    There is also a difference between loving and liking. Liking may be one of the better scenarios – less passionate, but not indifferent.

    Very interesting question – sounds like a good hypothesis for a thesis!

    deb

    • Hi Deb,

      Great points and am in full agreement with you. As you said, the wording changes things.

      There’s also recent research that suggests that ‘when people solved problems on behalf of others, they produced faster and more creative solutions than they did when they solved the same problems for themselves.’ (see link: http://bit.ly/fkG2Lc)

      I find myself in this situation constantly because those problems are not necessarily something you are passionate about but, the act of helping someone is the motivation.

      Also, when you solve a problem for yourself (something you love are passionate about) it can solve a problem for others. And so maybe that isn’t the initial motivation, but it ends up becoming something more meaningful because you are sharing it with someone else. Which also explains all these DIY websites/people who are actively sharing their insights with others and then turning that passion into a business.

      Anyways, I think there are many ways to look at this and like your idea for a thesis 🙂

      Thanks,

      Jorge

      • Deb Mills-Scofield

        Jorge,

        That article on solving problems for others is a great example. We tend to want to make these issues binary and innovation/passion is a continuum which makes it harder…those “grey” issues and “fine lines” humans don’t like.

        Thank you for raising this issue and great discussion

        Deb

  • Thermostat Jorge,

    In my observation I do not believe it is possible to innovate if you do not love your job. Moreover, if you do not love your life, how can you innovate self?

    You nailed it, if you do not love or enjoy your job, you will lack commitment and the creative puzzle builder (problem solver) blood will not pump commitment through the veins.

    There is something else going on if a person does not love (enjoy) their jobs, from my travels the common missing link is lack of vision. A cruise ship filled with passion, but no purpose or vision will ever turn into an aircraft carrier. Those on board the carrier are not on board not to cruise with the program, but there to be taught, equipped, and refueled with a mission, purpose.

    Where the rubber meets the road is putting the integrated life paradigm into practice. Too many enjoy their comfort zone of compartmentalization. Not until you set yourself free of your compartment will you be able to innovate with or without passion. The important work and innovation is done off the ship…those who are prepared do battle wherever they are sent with full commitment and creativity.

    We pose this question – Are you a thermometer or thermostat? You discover the heart of the matter on how they answer. Then continue the why game with at least five why questions.

    The thermostat will display innovation and the attributes you describe yourself in the post…full steam ahead with thermostats leading with vision and innovation pizzazz!

    All ashore!

    • Hi Steve,

      You always come up with great concepts! Like you, I also think it’s a matter of getting out of one’s own ego. This is a challenge in on itself!

      But I think it can be done, let me tell you a story and how this experience was my epiphany.

      When I was just starting college I took a job at FedEx where I was a loader. A physical job. Not fun. Was definitely not passionate about it but I wanted to work. Everyone else there was not happy, they were in a routine. Plus, I was the only mexican in an all-white workplace. I was stereotyped immediately. And it didn’t feel great being in an environment like that.

      I also started spotting problems (challenges) that were standing in the way of the purpose of FedEx. And in mine. I turned those two things into motivation to do something about it, and that’s exactly what I did.

      I was on a mission, and my attitude slowly started winning everyone over. And later on, Fred Smith, the CEO. At that time I didn’t know what innovation was or even what a CEO was. All I wanted was to make an impact. My ideas/efforts lead to a change in the way loading was done and the overall sort management. Load quality was redefined to reflect the new methods. We were breaking load records for 27 straight weeks. Our daily load was equal to the hub in LA, which back then was the main one.

      All because I started (working against the system) eliminating obstacles which were right under people’s noses.

      To make a long story short, I ended up loving my job. I really didn’t see it as a job, I saw it as a mission. To get to that point, I had to find a challenge. My challenge is to always make a difference no matter what. That’s the switch.

      We talk so much about passion, but attitude is a difference maker. Attitude is conducive to passion. And like you said, this is where the rubber meets the road. Some people bring their A game everyday, others need to be reminded.

      Thanks for the sharing the ‘Thermostat’ concept. That’s pretty cool!

      Cheers,

      Jorge

      • Deb Mills-Scofield

        Jorge, great example. Steve, sometimes is that deep desperate lack of love for self that is the tipping point for change. And there is love, like, neutral and hate…degrees. Sometimes a neutral “passion” gives more objectivity and clear thinking

        Deb

  • Kevin Mcfarthing

    Hi Jorge,

    Great subject and discussion below – by the way, I love Steve’s concept of the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat! I’ve seen far too many thermometers telling people what’s wrong, but fortunately many thermostats who make sure something is done.

    The key here is whether your passion blinds your objectivity. If it does, you’re sunk. You’ll make decisions too biased to emotion. You’ll care too much, and the business will suffer.

    Once a company gets beyond a reasonable size, and if it’s publicly owned, then if you’re the only person with passion the company is also sunk. Then, there isn’t enough collective care. I’ve seen companies with large numbers of people who are passionate about the business, consumers and products. Then, there are enough opinions to ensure that one person’s emotional passion doesn’t dominate rational decisions.

    The passion for innovation is the same. You need passion, commitment and drive to really move innovation to market (we all agree innovation is making something new, that is of value, happen).

    So I would argue that from a collective corporate perspective, if you don’t have a passion for innovation then you’ll be overtaken by those of your competitors who do. How that passion manifests itself is often taken as commitment. Whatever it is, it’s what makes people go that extra mile.

    Kevin

    • Hi Kevin (@innovationfixer),

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts from the corporate world. I’ve worked for two large companies and fought battles against the system. Ended up thinking these people were passionate-less.

      A lot is talked about passion, but what about attitude. I guess passion is an easier concept to grasp (like strengths vs weaknesses) than attitude. Help people find out what they like, and then keep doing more of that. People don’t seem to like to work on their weaknesses. I believe that’s where the most potential lies.

      I think attitude is conducive to passion. If you can, please read my response to Steve Koss to see what I mean.

      Jose points out that this is a problem with mindset. Again, attitude. I fully agree with him. This is no doubt hard for most people to do (open their own minds).

      This is all very interesting and it’s a question I’ve asked myself for a long long time.

      Thanks again, let me know what you think.

      Cheers,

      Jorge

      • Kevin Mcfarthing

        Hi Jorge,

        I agree – attitude is the outward expression of your passion/commitment. It reminds me again of the old phrase, still true – your aptitude and attitude determine your altitude.

        Kevin

  • Hello Jorge!

    Excellent question!

    When I read the first time at a glance the title of this article I felt like counter and say you can’t innovate without like what you do!

    But I agree that the passion I feel, to solve problems creatively and not part of the routine is almost always present. And I say almost always present because there are contexts in which prevails the obligation rather than pleasure and the energy that I feel do not have the same intensity as that which exists when I’m challenged to solve problems.

    I give an example:

    I and my eldest son, brand manager in a multinational Portuguese company the other day we talked about what makes us to do things!
    I said that one of the reasons that makes me like doing things is to find a meaning or purpose in what I do and face obstacles as challenges to resolve and overcome.
    He said that it was almost always what gave enjoyment but wasn’t very important the purpose.

    These are in fact two different postures lived in different contexts with different “responsibilities” (maybe), there are problems on both sides, but I try to solve them creatively and he by creating data bases which justify the positions he wants to take.

    It is a problem of mindset and I fully agree, Jorge! It’s my commitment.

    In the example I gave the young is looking, though passionately, solve problems based on past experiences by applying a solution which eventually was good practice. This seems to me to be a case of passion by the context.
    But in fact, when trying to maintain a creative mindset, it is not very relevant the context excepting of course creativity put at the service of “bad things” and the larger are constraints the major is the willingness to accept the challenge and win.

    For me there is a minimum threshold that works like lever that is constant and can increase in intensity if the meaning of this action is important to me as is the case for a project I’m involved to “satisfy desires (not basic needs) of people homeless.

    These are my two cents

    Jose

    • Hi Jose,

      Thanks for sharing your story. The contrast between the response of your son and you is a great example. I fully agree with you that it is a problem with mindset.

      If you can, please read my response to Steve Koss. I had an epiphany when I was just starting college. I switched my mindset and found my own motivation for doing something that I didn’t like or was passionate about. That was all I needed to do.

      Ever since, I’ve doing the same thing.

      I really believe that any situation whether you like it or not, can be changed. It’s no doubt difficult, but it’s our decision to make.

      Kevin also makes the point that commitment is key. I think attitude is key. Attitude is commitment. If you are committed to yourself you are already committed to the cause. I find myself becoming passionate about things that I never thought I would like. And it’s all because of mindset.

      Thanks again for your great thoughts Jose, and I’m very glad that you responded 🙂

      Cheers,

      Jorge

  • Hi Jorge.

    I’d argue that you can’t innovate if you aren’t engaged and passionate about what you do. Further, I’d argue, and we tell our clients, that firms can’t innovate unless they target specific issues or opportunities that align with their strategic intent – an idea developed by Prahalad and Hamel in their book Competing for the Future.

    Why are these things true? Because innovation is difficult, risky and uncertain. If an individual, team or corporation is confronted with uncertainty or risk, they must have passion and engagement in order to continue the work. Without the depth of interest or commitment, even small obstacles will deflect the team.

    To some degree, it’s almost pointless to start an innovation effort if your heart or passion isn’t engaged…

    • Deb Mills-Scofield

      Jeffrey

      The point is degree. I’ve seen people (co-workers, colleagues, clients) do some great innovation when they were interested but not in love with the topic. I think it also good to have a balance of degrees of passion on a team…at least passion ranging from neutral to high.

      Deb

      • Hi Deb (@dscofield),

        I agree. We would all love to be/create in team like 300 (see movie) where everyone is maniacally passionate about an initiative, biz, project, etc. That’s rarely the case.

        Cheers,

        Jorge

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      It’s difficult and won’t argue that. What I will argue is that attitude matters. I’ve been in more situations that I’m not particular passionate about, but because I need a purpose (a challenge) I find one (specific issues, problems) and use those to motivate myself. The challenge is not necessarily to solve them, but solve them in a different way.

      It doesn’t always work, but by changing your own mindset you find a purpose for you are passionate about. You committed yourself.

      No doubt this is hard for most people.

      Cheers,

      Jorge

  • Hola Amigo,

    I do think that I can innovate just about anything, because I really like innovating and creating in itself. The topic/subject doesn’t matter, as long as it is ethical.

    The level to which I am engaged depends on whether it is possible to create sustainable results. If the leader is not really supportive or if the culture is protecting the status quo, then it becomes impossible to have an impact.

    So, I do think that the culture is really crucial for succesful innovations.

    • Hi Arnold,

      That’s what I’m talking about! I think the question now becomes: Do you like creating?

      If you do, then you’ll find something to like and motivate you in just about anything.

      Cheers,

      Jorge

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  • I am a dentist and It is so great that I love my job but my patients – they don’t like me))