Billionaire Investor Says Follow Your Obsession, Not Your Passion
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Common people who find uncommon success don’t find their passions -- they follow their obsessions.
In 25 years of studying communication I’ve never met an inspiring entrepreneur who didn’t have an abundance of passion for his or her product, service or company. But while I’ve often used the word "passion" to describe this quality, I’ve always felt as though the word didn’t adequately reflect this essential quality of success.
Michael Moritz, the billionaire chairman of Sequoia Capital (investor in Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Airbnb) agrees. Moritz prefers the word “obsession” as a way to describe an essential quality shared by the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.
“I think passion is the wrong word. It’s way overused,” Moritz told me during an interview for the new book he co-wrote, Leading.
The book is about Alex Ferguson, the former manager for Manchester United soccer club and the most successful coach in all of professional sports.
According to Moritz, “The people who do remarkable things, whether it’s for a soccer club or creating and building a business, tend to be obsessed by what they are working on. The issue I have with the word ‘passion’ is it connotes that you need to be jumping up and down with enthusiasm at the top of your voice and brimming with excitement. But what people are really talking about is being completely captivated by an obsession that they simply cannot imagine conducting their life without.”
Moritz is a former editor for TIME magazine and wrote the first book on Apple. Since he joined Sequoia he’s backed and advised the entrepreneurs who are literally changing the world. Moritz sees a direct connection between great entrepreneurs, great leaders and great coaches.
“Obsessives, those who cannot imagine doing anything else with their lives, always find their work more fulfilling than those who find themselves in a profession because it was expected of them or because they did not have a calling that tugged at their emotions,” Moritz says. “For people like Sir Alex, who are obsessed by a pursuit, there is no separation between life and work … It is much easier to endure all the setbacks, reversals and frustrations of management when you deeply enjoy your work."
Obsession is key to overcoming the inevitable setbacks and frustration that come with entrepreneurship. Passion is necessary, but it’s not enough. For example, I once interviewed Chris Gardner, the man who Will Smith played in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardner was homeless, living with his young son in the bathroom of a train station while pursuing a career as a stock broker.
Gardner passed the exam to become a broker, launched his career and became a multi-millionaire. When I asked him for the secret to success, Gardner said, “Find something that you love to do so much you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.” Gardner wasn’t speaking about passion, he was describing obsession, which, by definition, is a persistent idea that “dominates one’s thoughts.”
Earlier this year I spoke at a conference right after Shark Tank co-host Daymond John, the entrepreneur behind the ultra successful fashion brand, FUBU.
“How did I get here?” John asked rhetorically. “I was obsessed with what I did. I would have dressed people for the rest of my life for free to see them adorn their body with something that I made.”
John never suggested that the entrepreneurs in the audience follow their passions. Instead, he said, “Do what you adore, what you’re obsessed with.”
Moritz says that Silicon Valley is shaped by leaders who work on products they most enjoy. It’s a similar trait he saw in Alex Ferguson, which is why Moritz was interested in writing a book with (and about) the legendary coach.
“For Sir Alex, that [obsession] meant working with the United players and shaping their style of play," Moritz says. "In California it might mean a founder who is fixated on the elegance of a chunk of code, the speed at which bytes are transmitted, the chemical and physical properties of a piece of silicon, the space in which data is stored or the size of a typeface.”
Finding your passion is a key ingredient to success, but indulging your obsession is the key to launching a legendary product or company.