Passion of the explorer | John Hagel, Center for the Edge

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Passion of the explorer | John Hagel, Center for the Edge

Blog series: The Journey Beyond Fear by John Hagel, Chairman Emeritus, Center for the Edge

Passion draws out excitement and motivates us to act, despite fear, to achieve more impact that’s truly meaningful to us. Our research on passion shows most of us have not yet found our passion. Many of us have given up looking for it, because we live in environments that are hostile to passion. We need to change that.

Passion is one of those words with an infinite number of meanings. I will focus on the passion of the explorer – an insight that emerged from research into environments where we see sustained extreme performance improvement. Despite the diversity of those environments, all the participants had this specific form of passion.

The passion of the explorer has three components:

  1. People who have this form of passion have made a long-term commitment to a specific domain – it could be anything from gardening to sales. They’re not just committed to being in the domain, they’re committed to achieving an increasing impact in that domain over time
  2. The second component of the passion of the explorer is a questing disposition. People with this passion are excited when confronted with an unexpected challenge. In fact, they’re constantly seeking new challenges as a way to achieve increasing impact.
  3. The third component of the passion of the explorer is a connecting disposition. When confronted with new challenges, the first reaction of people with this form of passion is to seek out others who can help them get to a better answer faster. They are extremely well connected with others.

Why it matters

We live in a world of mounting performance pressure. That world generates fear within more and more people. While understandable, that fear is very limiting. We need to cultivate emotions like hope and excitement that will help us to move forward in spite of our fear so that we can achieve the impact that is most meaningful to us.

The passion of the explorer generates excitement, not just in the moment, but over a lifetime. That excitement cannot be under-estimated. It turns pressure into opportunity that we pursue to achieve more of our potential.

This passion also cultivates a learning or growth mindset. No matter how much they have accomplished, people with this passion are eagerly seeking to find ways to achieve even more impact. They are never complacent or satisfied with the knowledge they already have – they are always wanting to learn more.

Equally importantly, the passion of the explorer drives each person to connect with others, not just in a transactional, exchanging business cards kind of way, but in a way that builds deep, trust-based relationships because they are very willing to express vulnerability. No matter how smart or talented any individual is, they will learn a lot more and achieve much more impact if they can find ways to build this kind of deep relationships with others. It will also help them to overcome their fears, because they are connected with others who share their passion and who will energize and support them through the most challenging of times.

Push back on passion

I often receive a lot of push back from people regarding passion. They say to me that some people are capable of passion, but most of us just want to be told what to do and have the security of a paycheck.

I resist that push back. I believe that we all, as humans, have the potential to find and pursue our passion. While relatively few children have found their passion of the explorer in terms of the domain that they want to commit to for the rest of their lives, they all have a powerful questing disposition and connecting disposition.

I also use the example of Toyota where they redefined work in their factories and told workers that their primary job was to identify problems and to solve the problems. Worker passion levels went way up because they were now not just cogs in a machine, but making a difference that matters by finding problems that no one else had seen before.

Our environments need to change

I believe we all need to find our passion of the explorer, regardless of how old we are (I was in my 50’s. before I fully connected with my passion of the explorer), if we’re going to make the journey beyond fear. My book outlines some of the approaches and actions we can take to find our passion of the explorer based on my own personal life experience and broader research that I’ve done on the topic.

But I’ve also come to believe that we’ll be much more successful in this quest if we live in environments that encourage and nurture the passion of the explorer, rather than seeking to crush it. Unfortunately, most of the environments we live and work in today are driven to crush this passion. It’s one of the reasons that, based on a survey I did of the US workforce, only 14% of US workers have this form of passion in their work.

In an institutional environment of scalable efficiency, we’re taught that the key to success is just to read the process manual, follow the instructions and deliver the anticipated results reliably and efficiently. Passion is viewed as deeply suspect. Passionate people ask too many questions, they take risks and they deviate from the script.

And our school systems are explicitly designed to prepare us for work in those institutional environments. As young people, we’re told that if you have a passion, pursue it on the playground or at home, but don’t bring it into the classroom. We’re also told to focus on finding a career that pays well and has high status, not something that we’re passionate about. Many parents also echo this message with the well-intentioned desire that their children do well in life.

If we’re all going to achieve more of our potential and have impact that’s meaningful to us, we need to come together to evolve our environments in ways that encourage and nurture the passion of the explorer for everyone. My book helps us to understand what those environments will need to look like.

Drawing out our passion

But we can’t just wait until our environments evolve. We need to get started now so that we can overcome our fear sooner rather than later and find a more fulfilling life.

In my book, I outline the role that our personal narrative plays in shaping our emotions and our lives. We need to make our personal narratives explicit (they are implicit for most of us) and then find ways to evolve our personal narratives so that they begin to focus on opportunities that are truly exciting to us. As I indicated in my previous blog post and in my book, I have a very different definition of narrative than most people do, so that’s key to understand.

And sooner rather than later, we need to find a small group of people (not more than 15 in total) who share our desire to move beyond fear and who will both support us in our efforts as well as challenge us to have even more impact.

The key is to move beyond conversation and focus on action that will help us to connect with the opportunity that excites us the most and learn more as we go.

As we begin to focus on the opportunity that excites us the most, we also need to take steps wherever possible to evolve our personal and work environments so that they support us in our quest to address the exciting opportunity.

Bottom line

The passion of the explorer is something that we all have within us, waiting to be discovered and nurtured. If we want to make the journey beyond fear, we need to make the effort to find that passion and pursue it, not just on nights and weekends, but in our day jobs. It will help us to turn a world of mounting performance pressure into a world of exponentially expanding opportunity.

We invite you to join us on this journey – it’s an exciting one that will help all of us to achieve more and more impact that is meaningful to us.

John Hagel III is Center for the Edge’s Chairman Emeritus. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Santa Fe Institute, which conducts leading-edge research on complex adaptive systems. He also serves on the faculty of Singularity University. John has nearly 40 years of experience as a management consultant, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He served as senior vice president of strategy at Atari, Inc. He is the founder of two Silicon Valley startups and author of multiple bestselling books, including ‘Net Gain’, ‘The Power of Pull’ and, recently, ‘The Journey Beyond Fear’. This perspective was first published on John Hagel’s personal blog johnhagel.com

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