At the intersection of professional passion and utility

In 2007, we were first hearing the echoes of "follow your passion" in career circles. At the time, to my peers it sounded like a great idea, if only because following our passions meant that we weren't suffering quite so much in our current jobs. Senior leadership was, admittedly, a little cautious about encouraging young employees to chase their passions because it was a little far fetched. 

How do we find the balance between having fulfilled employees and growing a business? Here are some things to consider:

1. Passion matters, but it should only be a data point.

"Following your passion" sets everyone up for some serious disappointment. I've never found a good answer to the brazen young man who only wants to eat pizza and play video games all day.

"I'm following my passion," he could say.

And he could stump me, if I only ever advocated everyone being happy all the time in their job. By telling people to only follow their passions, we also empower them to have a me-centric world view. "Following your passion" turns employees into anything but team players and also feeds contempt of management when they're asked to perform jobs outside of their "passions."

2. The guiding compass of your professional career should be utility.

When I meet young employees, I tell them, "I want you to be fulfilled in your work here, and I need you to be useful to our team." If someone is passionate about mathematics, it's only logical that I won't put them in a designer role. But if someone is passionate about typography but actually possesses thorough editing skills, I'll probably assign him a manuscript to proofread and later give him a chance to edit the book's layout alongside a senior editor. In this instance, his passions carved a new opportunity for him by employing his skills and being immediately useful to the whole team.

3. When passion and utility intersect, that's when we see things grow.

As a business owner, I set myself up to fail if I make my employee's happiness my highest priority. Happiness is fleeting, but fulfillment is not. Together, if we can find a way to employ someone's passions and skills for the greater utility of a business objective, then we've found our sweet spot.

In this context, the sweet spot is being a creative agency that attracts top talent because people are (1) challenged in their skillset; (2) held accountable for their outputs and contributions to the team; and (3) prioritized as an integral part of business growth.