How To Communicate Passion Effectively

Here’s a phrase that’s thrown around so often, it’s essentially meaningless:

“We’re passionate about <insert-word-here>”.

Talk is cheap.

We could tell you that we’re passionate about ecommerce and referral marketing, for instance. We ARE, but us saying it doesn’t actually say very much about us, our product or what we can do for you.

We’d be wasting your time.

Competence and commitment are what really matter.

Cal Newport has argued compellingly that the “Find Your Passion And Everything Will Be Okay” idea is “reductionist drivel“. “I followed my passion” is somehow more pleasant to the ear than “I was opportunistic, and I worked my butt off.” And it’s easier to say, too. And it gives you an aura of divinity. You were burdened with great purpose.


Do people really care about the reported passion of others? To what degree?

Consider the following example: Would you rather be operated on by a rookie surgeon who claims to be passionate, or a seasoned veteran with a great track record? Claims are cheap. Expertise is what people pay for. Gladly.

People who are good typically have no problems communicating that they enjoy what they do. And it’s always a pleasure to watch somebody kick butt at their craft.

Conversely, just because you like something doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

We use passion as an rough, approximage guage of commitment, and use THAT as a rough, approximate guage of competence. We assume that:

  1. a person who claims to be passionate about something will stick around (not always true).
  2. a person who sticks around willl get good at whatever they’re doing ( not always true either).

How do you genuinely communicate passion competence and commitment, then?

  • Attention to detail. This applies primarily to your products. If you care about what you’re doing, you’ll make sure that what you’re making reveals it. While Cal Newport criticizes Steve Jobs’ “Follow Your Passion”, he would be forced to concede the validity of “Insanely Great” as a competitive strategy. If your product is insanely great, then you’ll be so good they can’t ignore you.
  • Sensible policies. We got a nice email from one of our customers because we remind them when their free trial is about to expire. Why do we do that? Because we’re not interested in making money from unsatisfied customers! We believe in the value of what we do.
  • Great customer service. Can you think of anything more dreadfully hypocritical than “Please hold, your call is important to us”?

Examples of passion competence and commitment done right:

  • Kurgo sells products for dogs. They have a page called Top Dogs where all their staff feature their own pets and their favorite dog memories. They have a lifetime warranty on their products, because they know that the customers who try to exploit that would be outweighed by the customers won over by their commitment to quality.
  • YNAB sells budgeting software, and you can see their passion for helping people with their finances- not just with their words, but with the free information they give away, their free online classes, their forum and their commitment to rapid, personal customer service.

Back up your (cheap) claims of passion with a (costly) demonstration of competence, and a willingness to go the extra mile in service.

Relevant digression:

Have you ever been advised to “be yourself”, whether when going out on a date or going for a job interview? You have my sympathies.

Nobody actually wants you to “be yourself” as you are, awkwardness and all. “Be yourself” is really our way of saying “DON’T BE UNCOMFORTABLE”. We want you to be relaxed, charismatic, calm, poised, friendly, cheerful. And none of that comes easily. You have to put in the grunt work to realise your BEST self. Only then will you be comfortable and cheerful, and only then will your mistakes be charming rather than cringeworthy.

Similarly, when we say “Be passionate” or “Follow your dreams”, what we really mean is: Don’t be lifeless. Don’t be boring. Be animated. Be confident. Make us feel like you’ve got something worth saying. And let us see the great stuff you’ve carefully put together. That’s all that actually counts.


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