It’s common wisdom that among the virtues needed to succeed in business, and for that matter, any competitive enterprise, are passion and a sense of urgency.
Both of these, though, have drawbacks. They lock orientation, sort of like painting over your windshield and stomping on the accelerator. “Urgency” is particularly pernicious because it becomes a corporate loyalty test: Just execute the plan, act now, don’t think, and for God’s sake, don’t question.
Instead of “create a sense of urgency,” I’d suggest something like “form an accurate and shared mental model of what’s going on.” This means that you’re going to have to consider alternative explanations for unfolding circumstances and keep as many options open as long as possible. Practice a wise parental serenity in front of a mirror.
Now, for passion. There’s a great article in Monday’s Wall St. J. whose title says it all: “How an entrepreneur’s passion can destroy a startup” (paywall) by Harvard prof Noam Wasserman. The heading of a sidebar tells why, “Is your passion blinding you?” As Wasserman explains:
Passion can wreak havoc with founders’ judgment when they’re crafting their early business plans. They focus on rosy scenarios, assuming they’ll get up and running quickly and build sales without a hitch.
Worse, anybody who doesn’t demonstrate the requisite passion for the scenarios or the plan will quickly become a non-person. Reminds one of funerals for the glorious leaders of North Korea.
Avoiding the passion trap is hard. Wasserman quotes Steve Jobs as suggesting “Follow your heart, but check it with your head.” Good advice, but fiendishly hard to do. In a new book on why people stick with beliefs despite all evidence to the contrary, appropriately entitled The Unpersuadables, Will Storr observes that the primary function of the human brain appears to be to construct rationale for paths we’ve already decided to follow. Where the heart leads, the mind will follow. And the smarter you are, the more clever and plausible rationale you can construct.
One way to think about operating inside the OODA loop is that the side who can best “check with his head” and accept the results — in other words, really test hypotheses, not fall in love with them — will have an enormous competitive advantage. In a sense, this is the point of Conceptual Spiral.
So instead of passion and urgency, I recommend to you such virtues as insight, equanimity, appreciation, and the Schwerpunkt /Auftragstaktik model of leadership. Passions fade and urgency burns itself out, but these virtues can sustain you for a lifetime.