On Risk, Passion, and Drive

I'd like to share a recent story I'm proud of.

It was not an independent effort. Had it been, I know for a fact we'd not have been as successful. That's exactly why I want to share it.

I'd recently posted a question asking what recent risks others had taken, and how it had played out. Frasier Crane would probably make some remark about it being my anxious subconscious searching for validation as we'd just taken a large risk, and were not yet clear on the outcome.

A few weeks ago, our team was preparing for one of the largest annual conferences we attend. In the previous 4 years, we'd been using the same interactive booth experience that was no longer as engaging as it had once been. We'd tried earlier in the year to revamp it, but with only 2 weeks to go we were a far cry from the experience we wanted to provide and the message we wanted to deliver.

As the conference neared, our Marketing Manager voiced the same concerns I was feeling. Our "new" booth was boring. It was a booth asking to be ignored. We started riffing ideas together and very quickly landed on an idea that we knew would work. The kind of idea that you wish you'd had months ago, but that only comes after you'd iterated on the wrong idea a few times and have little time to spare.

One of those "if only we had the time" ideas.

Unfortunately, we couldn't justify spending the remaining work days on a brand new idea when we still had to finalize the existing booth. It was too large a risk, and if we failed, we'd have nothing at all. A booth with screens and nothing to show on them.

People throw the word "passion" around so often that it's lost a lot of its meaning (see David Mitchell's "Passion") and while being passionate is important, it only got us so far. It had us rethinking our initial strategy, being self-critical, and knowing we could do better. It was a first step, but in the absence of the much needed time, it couldn't do much else for us. "Passion" is the emotion-based motivator, but it was "Drive" that got us where we wanted. Drive is results-based motivation.

Getting approval to work during the week on such a gamble wasn't likely. But the one weekend we had? That was ample opportunity to not only prove the concept, but deliver the solution. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10pm to 11:30pm, I managed to get all my pieces together and passed the baton to the Marketing Manager - who, on her day off and in her evenings, fleshed out the content and materials.

I started off by saying this was not an independent effort. It wasn't a two-person effort either.

With 2 days to spare, we took our far more exciting, far more engaging experience to the team. Not just any team - our team. A passionate team, but more importantly a driven team. A team that understood the goal. Within minutes we were getting feedback, all hyper-focused on further improving the deliverable. No distractions, just specific and measurably-impactful improvements.

My moral is this: we often are faced with the decision to take a risk. Risk-taking alone doesn't ensure success. Nor does passion. Taking a risk, being passionate, and being driven - that gets you most of the way there. What makes you first across the finish line is when all the people who happen to find themselves in the same boat as you realize how much faster the boat will go when they look in the same direction, and row to the same beat.


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