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Reverse-engineering passion: part 1


Part One: What it looks like (why we care)

Like all good geeks, I can't let something important remain unanalyzed. If we're talking about passion, we better know a little something about what that means. The best way to create passionate users is to figure out:

1) What it looks like when people are passionate about something
2) What kind of things people are passionate about
and finally...
3) The characteristics of the things people are passionate about

We're not going to leave it to chance or fads.

This post is about #1, What it looks like when people are passionate. This defines why we want it. It defines our goal! We hear people talking about wanting (or already having) "passionate users", but when they describe what it looks like, it's closer to "satisfied and happy" users. And since we're going for the full passion monty here, we can't stop with that.


If you're serious about creating passionate users, this is what it looks like. This is what we're trying to build. When making a decision about something, we have to ask the question, "Will this thing we're about to do support any of the things on this map?" In other words, are we doing something with our product, service, marketing, etc. that will help the user do any of the following:





Show Off

Spend Time

Spend Money

Too often, companies seem to focus only on the last one -- they're quite happy to find ways for the user to spend more money, but ignore the others. So let me add another question. Besides asking, "How is what we're about to do going to help us support one of the seven passionate characteristics?" we should be asking, "ARE we supporting all seven things?"

Do you help users connect with others who share that passion?

Do you have a way for users to learn more?

Do you give users a clear path for improvement, so that they're motivated to keep getting better? (Under the assumption that the better they are at it, the more they love it. Think about it...)

Do you give users a way to show off their expertise (the "more [insert here] than thou" thing)

Do you give users opportunities to spend more time on this passion?

Do you give users a way to spend more money around this passion?

Do you give users support for evangelizing to others?

Granted, you don't have to actually do all of these... you can support other third-parties in doing them for you.

For example, my co-authors and I are doing several of these things for Sun, without any direct support from Sun. I originally created javaranch.com, which is now the single largest Java community "fan" site on the internet. Between javaranch and/or our books, we support:

Users can connect with others.

Users can learn and improve through forums, articles, lessons, etc.

Users can show off either through answering questions, contributing articles, or--even better--by becoming "bartenders" (forum moderators).

Users can spend time on the site (to the great delight of their employers and family members ; )

Users can evangelize on the various discussion forums.

Users can spend money (which we sometimes hope will be on one of our books... hey, we have to eat too)

This support we provide is all part of Java's Passionate Wake, and yet Sun didn't do a damn thing to help us (well, other than create a wonderful programming language which we believe is passion-worthy).

Sun's job? Stay out of our way and let it happen! At one point a few years back, Sun's legal began sending threatening letters to javaranch (after I had turned the site over to it's current owner, Paul Wheaton), for using the word "Java" on the site including in the name of the site itself. They suggested some lovely changes. Paul wrote back saying, "Hey, we'll be happy to rename it .NetRanch or maybe C#Ranch..." and the whole thing was slashdotted making Sun out to be the big bad guys going after their number one fan site. Rumor has it that James Gosling found out, and--virtually overnight--the whole "misunderstanding" was cleared up and Paul got a call from Sun marketing with a solution that would solve everyone's problems and make it possible for javaranch to carry on while still allowing Sun to protect it's trademark.

OK... back to the seven things. Again, you and your company don't need to personally do all seven things, but they are characteristics of passion, so if you want passion--they need to be somewhere in the equation. So if you don't support them, you need to help and encourage others to do it for you. Don't try to stop someone from making money off something you have built... because there's an opportunity cost for you if users don't get to do these seven things until YOU'RE ready to make them happen.

By giving up control--especially over the need to be the only one profiting from your creation--you greatly increase the chances that these seven things will happen more quickly, which in turn increases the chances that more and more people will become passionate. Truly passionate, not just satisfied or happy.

But if nobody is stepping up to support some of these things, then you better look for ways to kick-start the process. It could be as simple as starting a blog and providing instructions and materials for how to start a user group, or as complex as developing training programs, fan sites, and more.

Next up: we'll look at the things people are passionate about, and see if we can extract some useful tips, tricks, and data from that.

And, oh yes, don't worry if you're thinking, "my product could NEVER have those things... I make trash bags." We're still going to answer that one too... but you'll just have to keep reading ; )

Posted by Kathy on May 12, 2005 | Permalink


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> At one point a few years back, Sun's legal began sending threatening letters to javaranch (after I had turned the site over to it's current owner, Paul Wheaton), for using the word "Java" on the site including in the name of the site itself. They suggested some lovely changes. Paul wrote back saying, "Hey, we'll be happy to rename it .NetRanch or maybe C#Ranch..."

Again, I have to emphasize this critical difference between Sun and Microsoft corporate cultures: this would NEVER happen to any MS development fansite. Not in a zillion years.

I also have a similarly themed post here (well, it's about the odd channels for passion) that you might enjoy:


Posted by: Jeff Atwood | May 13, 2005 12:54:32 PM

>And, oh yes, don't worry if you're thinking, "my product
>could NEVER have those things... I make trash bags."
>We're still going to answer that one too... but you'll
>just have to keep reading ; )

Your website is amazing. The understanding you have of the human brain, motivation, passion, and how to apply it to life keeps me coming back to learn more. I truly feel your blog will make me a better person (if I can just figure out how to apply this stuff to things that matter in my life).

I think of all the good you could be doing with this information.....and that's why I cry when I see that you're whoring it out to people manufacturing garbage bags.

This is the second time I've seen you talk about garbage bags. The first had to do with telling the companies to have a mockumentary making contest. Your point was: give your "users" an inspiring reason to think about your product.

How about this: people shouldn't be thinking about garbage bags. You only have so many minutes to be alive and you shouldn't waste any of them thinking about trash sacks (beyond what their effect might be on the environment and thus the well being of future generations of humans). Companies that make garbage bags shouldn't be struggling to get people to spend more time thinking about their product. It has nothing to do with the human condition. It's a wierd perversion.

We should spend lots of it thinking about the human condition, about other people, the environment, the human spirit. We should be learning to appreciate art, music, literature.

Why can't you apply your techniques to help me get more interested in reading classic works of literature? I read much more than the average Joe, but considering the fact that I grew up in a TV society it's a real struggle sometimes. My brain constantly tells me to put the book down and watch some brainless TV. Why don't you help me with that?

Why don't you talk about other amazing applications of your studies? I can't really think of any right now, but you think about this stuff all day. Surely you can tell me how can I harness it to become a better human being?

Posted by: Kevin | May 19, 2005 12:15:49 PM

That's the POWER of PASSION!!

Posted by: Balakumar Muthu | May 20, 2005 7:01:57 AM

The best way to kill passion is to over-analyze it. You guys are doing an amazing job.

Posted by: John | May 20, 2005 8:53:39 PM

it's a nice work..word's of appreciation.once it was amayhem but it's now all passion

Posted by: chimp | Jul 20, 2005 11:39:36 PM

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