Passion in the workplace: sustainable engagement

In her comment on yesterday’s post, Kathy Sierra included a link to a presentation she made at a recent Government 2.0 Expo.  Here it is:

Sierra’s often talked about passion, and makes a good distinction here between “passion” and “fantasy models.”  In the workplace (as elsewhere), passion means more than “I’m interested in” or “I care about” something.  For her, it means that you’re so into whatever you’re into that you’re constantly learning.

Not everyone is, which explains the difference between 15 years’ experience and one year repeated 14 times.

That’s how I interpret her remark about passion meaning that you’re engaged in “a sustainable way.”  You’re not just connected to something passively.  You interact with it, and that interaction changes you.

In her talk, she touches on the fact that many people don’t learn and change even when they’ve got a real stake in the outcome–like people who’ve had coronary bypass surgery.

That doesn’t mean they can’t, of course.  It may mean that they need better tools to help them change–clearer examples, support systems, networks, all that stuff.

In the meantime, her suggestions for getting started include:

  • Teach something cool (as a bridge to other things)
  • Provide opportunity for self-expression (meaning, let people do things with what they’re learning)
  • Wrap the mundane or pragmatic in a compelling context

If you’re in the U.S., your local jurisdiction produces an annual water quality report (here’s the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s version).  Sierra points to recent reports from the city of Bryant, Texas (available from the Water Services department’s main page).  Since 2004, they’ve worked at doing things differently, at least in part to raise awareness of what the department does for citizens.

Links at the Water Services page offer reports from earlier years, like the 2004 edition from which I took the picture above.  Even without reading all the text, you get a striking image.  They’re talking about backflow prevention–keeping hazardous material from contaminating the water system (not to mention the water from your faucet).  The city has backflow prevention in place, and so can you.

So the citizens of Bryant could learn more about their water and modify their usage based in part on the report.  And on a couple other levels:

  • The staff of the water department has more visibility.
  • The city thinks differently about how it communicates with citizens.
  • Individuals (workers, citizens, passers-by) see a fresher, potentially more effective way to share a message.

Maybe it’s not always calendars.  Or maybe the calendar form, and the increased resolution that Kathy Sierra talks about, helps drive people to more and more creativity.  It’s like what the poet Robert Francis said about the sestina in general and his poem Hallelujah: a sestina in particular:

If you drape thirty-nine iron chains around your arms and shoulders and then do a dance, the whole point of the dance will be to seem light and effortless.

Robert Francis knows, as Kathy Sierra knows, that “light and effortless” won’t happen unless you pick up those chains, get out on the floor, and dance.

4 thoughts on “Passion in the workplace: sustainable engagement

  1. Chris, I’m sometimes a bit leery of terms like passion. Often they’re carts into which people load whatever impedimenta they have lying around. That’s why I liked Kathy’s example of “sustained engagement.” You’re passionate about photography, or cooking, or speaking another language, or programming when you continue to play with it and work at it. In Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s words, you’re not content to pull the same three rabbits out of the hat over and over.

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