Archive for April 6th, 2006


Thursday, April 6th, 2006

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I have come to hate the word “passion” – people judging other people based on their “passion”, failing students because they don’ show “passion”.

Well here’s a Microsoft employee’s take on this. He calls it “enthusiasthma”:


The contemporary blight of communication, at least at Microsoft, is passion. You can’t walk three feet on the Redmond campus without hearing someone talk about passion.

If you interview for a job at Microsoft, you will get drilled about your passion. During the course of your job, you will attend meetings in which people constantly refer to passion. You will receive emails about passion.

Again, like communication, passion is a good thing. It’s good to talk. It’s good to be excited.

But, it’s gotten to the point that the passion has become a sort of disease. I call it ‘Enthusiasthma’ (if you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s a combination of the words ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘asthma’). People act so excited about things that they can hardly breathe. And they live their lives this way. They show up for meetings out of breath, and present on topics with their voices notched up a whole octave. You can really hear the passion.

Except that you can’t, really.

This notion of constantly being excited is exhausting. It’s not healthy. It isn’t normal. It’s downright stupid and counter-productive.

People at the company are so terrified now of not appearing to show passion that they’ll give you Oscar-winning speeches about what they had for lunch and why it was so great for customers. If you end a sentence with fewer than three exclamation points, offset by several spaces to isolate the excitement and drive it home, then you clearly aren’t really behind whatever it is that you’re talking about.

This is bad.

Like, so bad.

As long as employees feel pressured to constantly overflow with passion, they’re going to be terrified to speak when it’s time to address what isn’t going so well. I’ve watched projects continue, and not with any great success, fueled mainly by passion. In those cases, yeah, people are being passionate, but they’re putting all this passion into things that aren’t really helping. They’ve been fooled by their own passion.

And this is happening company-wide. It’s like open honesty and skepticism are getting brushed aside for passion. It’s spreading thanks to that other often celebrated social disease, the meme. It’s everywhere. And the word is used so often that it’s losing its meaning.

At Microsoft, one of the other words you’ll hear left and right is ‘innovation.’ I’ve already said what I want to say about this awful word, but regardless of how overused I think the word ‘innovation’ is, I still understand its importance.

So here’s something to think about: As long as people are running around with all this passion, having left their critical thinking and skepticism in the late 90’s, and while they’re driving these sometimes winning/sometimes losing projects with all this passion, they’re handicapping their ability to innovate. Innovation is only good as long as what’s being created is actually useful.

We have this situation, then, where one company ideal, innovation, is getting squashed by another company ideal, which is passion.

The problem is that all of this reeks of extremism and zealotry, which never lead to real success. The way you win with extremism is by fooling yourself into believing that everything you think is right, and then bludgeoning your enemies with your abundant resources until they give. That’s not really winning.


How To Fix It

It’s never cool to just rant on without having a solution, and, fortunately, the solution here is simple.

Don’t buy into to the crap in these self-help business books. There will never be any single idea that will make you succeed. The best you can do is approach everything you do with a dose of skepticism, and by questioning everything at least a little bit. When one of your coworkers comes to you with this ‘FANTASTIC REALLY COOL   !!!!!!!!!!!!!’ idea, feel free to ask that person why it’s so great, and don’t settle for passion.

When your coworkers put effort into things that you know, deep down, aren’t good for the team, then they’re dragging you down with them, and it’s your right to speak up. Don’t be intimidated by someone’s out of control (and probably inappropriate) confidence.

It’s probably enthusiasthma.”