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My passion is awesome, your passion is lame


It's the golfer who spends an entire weekend hitting a little ball with a stick but slams his co-worker for "wasting time with mindless video games". It's the Java fan dissing the Ruby enthusiast. It's the audiophile who paid $8,000 for a home stereo but can't believe you spent $1,000 on that Nikon lens.

While we usually have no trouble justifying our passion to ourselves we have a tough time justifying it to those who don't share that particular passion. We all have passion double-standards. Mine makes sense, yours doesn't. The time and money I spend on my passion is worth it, yours is a waste.

In the past, I've said that one characteristic of people with a passion is that they are irrational about that passion. But by whose judgement? Who decides it's rational to spend an extraordinary amount on the best cooking pans and utensils, yet irrational to buy a digital SLR when "my $200 point-and-shoot Canon takes just as good a picture?" Who decides that you shouldn't watch too much TV, but your cause is judgemental and self-righteous? Who decides that it should be obvious why the iPod is worth the extra money, but come on--spending that much on dog food!?

The point is, one person's irrational zealotry is another person's reasonable passion. It all depends on your perspective. (Of course this is a continuum--with a few obsessed ones out on the extreme edge of the passion curve. And unfortunately, the extreme zealots are the ones that folks like to point out as examples of why your passion is so irrational.)

So, what can we do to help our users explain their passion to others? Sales and marketing people put a ton of effort into providing the "rational justification" for a buying, joining, whatever-it-is decision, but once they've accepted the justifications and paid their money, that's it. Yet as they start to become truly passionate, this is when they may need justifications the most! Not for themselves, but for others. And it's a different kind of justification...

Your passionate users don't need you to help justify the product, they need you to help them justify the passion.

It does me no good to explain the benefits of the $1,000 lens I just bought if my passion for photography makes no sense to you.

It does you no good to justify why you joined rock climbing gym Foo instead of Bar, if I think your passion for climbing is not just irrational but dangerous.

And how can I possibly explain why I spent all that extra money for a Parelli-brand horse halter if you think "natural horsemanship" is nothing but marketing hype?

But this gets to the heart of one of the most important aspects of passion--that it goes beyond the product/service/cause itself. Our passions often represent something about who we are. For many of us, the thing we're passionate about is not just a hobby, product, service, cause, etc... it's a way of life.. Ted Leung explainined to me that as a result of his relatively recent passion for photography, he "sees the world differently now." Passionate golfers have apparently elevated golf to some kind of spiritual status--it is, for them, about much more than just hitting a ball with a stick. Ditto with fly fishing (it's apparently not about the fish or the flys). The guys from 37signals offer much more than software apps... they represent a philosophy (the whole "getting real/it-just-doesn't-matter" thing). MindJet's Mind Manager not a mind-mapping tool, it's a way of thinking.

If we truly want to support our passionate users (or help them to get there in the first place), we need to consider how this passion fits in the context of their work or personal life. If our user's spouse is complaining about all the time they spend doing [whatever it is], can we offer a friends/family free workshop? Educational demos? Create a DVD that helps define some of what this means to people who have a passion for this thing? Case studies? It might be recommending an influential film that speaks to the deeper nature of this passion (I must admit, I got teary-eyed over a golf movie once). At the very least, we should make sure that existing users have access to the same kinds of white papers, product comparisons, technical or financial justifications that we give to prospective users. (Although again, this addresses the THING and not the passion.)

Bottom line: if we want to help our users explain their passion to others, we need to help give them the tools to do so. It may often be unsuccessful--some people will always have a closed mind around things they can't see or feel for themselves--but it's way better than nothing.

Not that I should have to justify my passions, of course, because--DUH--the justification is self-evident to anyone who "gets it." ; )

Posted by Kathy on April 25, 2006 | Permalink


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» Passion(ate) Me from The Escape Blog
How come when it comes to justifying our own passions, it's okay - the £2000 stereo system, the second set of golf clubs this year. That's alright, because we understand it. But, when it's someone elses passion it seems weird. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2006 1:41:07 AM

» Is My Passion Better Than Yours? from Life On the Wicked Stage: Act 2
Recently Dennis Rice of GottaBeMobile ranted a bit about taking sides in discussions about different technologies. (You know the song, mine is better than yours, this will kill that.) Marc and jk took it up on their recent OnTheRun with [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2006 6:18:20 AM

» Justifying A Passion from pulled quotes
Your passionate users don't need you to help justify the product, they need you to help them justify the passion. Creating Passionate Users [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2006 8:53:44 AM

» Arabians and Quarter Horses from i gallop on
Creating Passionate Users. We all have passion double-standards. Mine makes sense, yours doesn't. The time and money I spend on my passion is worth it, yours is a waste. We meet some cowboys from Los Lunas on the rocky... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2006 2:58:32 PM

» Passion versus Elitism from Unfettered Blather
Kathy Sierra posted a great piece on the differences in peoples passions. She takes a good hard look at why passion isnt bad, but to get others involved we need to understand there passions and be able to explain why ours are so importan... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2006 11:43:35 AM


It's like saying "Your stuff is shit, and my shit is stuff" :) (not my own... heard it somewhere).

Posted by: Visitor | Apr 25, 2006 3:44:02 PM

If you mention 37signals one more time, I'm going to friggin puke!

Posted by: John D | Apr 25, 2006 4:00:21 PM

Nah, big up 37signals. I asked a question of their support email address, and their boss guy came back to me with the answer. Small company, maybe, but it's the personal touches that count. They rock.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Apr 25, 2006 5:30:51 PM

Hmm. Sounds like Kant's 3rd critique, dude.

Posted by: bfm | Apr 25, 2006 7:54:11 PM

Didn't I see those two somewhere before? Like in a book draft? C'mon, Kathy. Git 'er done!


Posted by: Mike | Apr 25, 2006 11:21:59 PM

If you really are passionate about a topic then that passion shines through. Even if you as reader haven't a clue about the subject matter. Take one step forward.

The people I really admire are those that understand it isn't easy explaining niche interests and the best way therefore is to tell stories. That focuses the writer's mind on thinking about how to get over difficult concepts to the client equivalent of the man from Mars.

Posted by: Dennis Howlett | Apr 26, 2006 1:04:46 AM

I just realized im the mac guy. Oh crap. Oh well, macs are the best, and windoze bloze!!1!

Posted by: Eric | Apr 26, 2006 1:08:29 AM

"Passion for Golf" thing just reminds me of P.G Wodehouse and his stories on Golf. Thats the kinda passion I am aiming for.

Posted by: Devdatta Akhawe | Apr 26, 2006 2:55:48 AM

Passion for anything is good. Better than a no-passion dull life. Passion gets the heart going, excites, stimulates and makes life worth getting up for at 5.30am every day. Everyone should have something to look forward to be healthy and happy. We've all got our own way of doing it. Thank God.

Posted by: Noel Kingsley | Apr 26, 2006 5:39:10 AM

Is it possible to be passionate but reasonable?

It's one thing to drop $1,000 on a lens, it's an entirely different thing to do it when you can barely make a house payment.

It's great to be passionate about a technology, but not so great if that technology doesn't really benefit the company or client.

I recently had a discussion with a consultant that worked with a competing firm. We had a great relationship and were discussing the top four developers on the project we worked on. When he started discussing my work, what I told him was "The reason why my work was some of the best is because I actually give a damn". I chose to be passionate about the project.

The difference that made on the client was enormous. People at the client site who hated consultants would say glowing things about me. I put my focus not on my company, not on the client, and not on the technology, but the end result. I cared about the product, I cared about how the user would use the project.

The end result was a high level of user acceptance, good customer satisfaction, and an insta-job should I ever decide to take it.

And the best part? It's hard to describe passion for Java, but it's easy to describe passion for high quality work. I know people who are dedicated to writing high quality Java code, and they do write good stuff. However, the end-user doesn't really care about that, they want a high-quality product. The difference is that high quality Java code might meet requirements, but it may still not give them what the user WANTS.

Posted by: Jason O | Apr 26, 2006 7:33:12 AM

My passions change over time. I used to be passionate about folk music, then jazz, and now classical. Now I still like folk and jazz, but there is more than enough "new classical music" being created to satisfy me.

I used to be passionate about computational finance. I used to be passionate about the Democratic party. I used to be passionate about computational physics and chemistry. I used to be passionate about American literature. Etc. etc. etc.

But I've pretty much always been passionate about mathematics and computers. The current expression of that passion is the absolutely staggering wealth of high-quality open source software that's out there, a large chunk of which is sitting on one of my hard drives somewhere.

For example, there are two world-class open source operating system kernels (three if you count Solaris), the GNU compilers and other tool sets, four major scripting languages, at least six open-source desktops that can compete with the Windows and Mac desktops, and application packages too numerous to mention.

So ... to put it bluntly ... I'm just as passionate about my Linux workstations and servers as you Mac and Windows bozos are about your workstations and servers. I don't care how often you guys and dolls have to reboot ... clean memory is happy memory, as they say.

Posted by: Ed Borasky | Apr 26, 2006 8:23:51 AM

Interesting . . . and, you've obviously never talked to a knitter about yarn, either . . . talk about passion!

Posted by: --Deb | Apr 26, 2006 10:18:24 AM

Quite true, its so much easier to see and justify our own passions.

Posted by: Tim Draayer | Apr 26, 2006 1:17:10 PM

Yesterday a colleague was telling us "this is unbeleivable when people are buying for their dogs Pedigree! This is so bad food!", and we were siting and honestly don't understanding her. So you phrase about dog food made me smiling)).

Anyway that is a good point Kathy, but I also think it is importnant also try to make your product difficult to compare to it's competitors. The tools for explaining has to be not only rational. It can be brand (all cameras are good, but it's a sony camera), some super cool feature (McDonanlds serves me in one minute (still not in Russia)), super-best service (but their call center guys were so kind) etc.


Posted by: Dmitry Linkov | Apr 27, 2006 12:12:48 AM

I used to be passionate about being right, as in my way of doing things is so much better and logical than your way of doing things.

But, then I gained some wisdom by doing some systems thinking and realizing if I lose some battles I will actually win the war.

So, now I am happily being wrong, some of the time, and gaining passion, which is much more fun anyways! ;)

Posted by: Mary-Anne | Apr 27, 2006 1:10:57 AM

As someone who tries to bring a passion for teaching and learning technologies to my colleagues, as well as a passion for the creativity and connections they enable (mostly for that, actually), I found your post today very resonant. Thank you for it.

It occurs to me that one of my passions is, well, passion itself. I love the feeling of commitment, enthusiasm, and excited sharing that passion represents for me. When people are passionate, they may disagree, but they're never bored, jaded, or too-cool-for-school. It's the sullen ones at the back of the classroom, or meeting room, or auditorium, who get to me. Life is not a dress rehearsal.

To be passionate and informed and reflective and critical, yet still passionate: that's the goal.

Posted by: Gardner Campbell | Apr 27, 2006 4:56:40 AM

It may not even be a true passion, or the passion might be misinterpreted.

Spending $1000 on a lens might just be today's answer to "what do I spend my money on today?". Digital photography is hot right now, so why not? Using money to try and buy passion, or buy your way into a "club" to which you don't belong. And, in that case, you'd never have anything in common with the person who bought the $1000 lens because they were truly passionate about photography.

Some people will never be passionate about anything, but they'll spend mountains of money trying to buy themselves a passion and will probably confuse a lot of folks along the way :)

Posted by: mattbg | Apr 27, 2006 9:28:11 AM

Highly differentiated offerings personalized to each buyer's whims are what state-of-the-art, tech-enabled, segmentation marketing is all about. There's nothing more differentiating than a person's irrationality. The hot products are hot precisely because they go beyond reason -- in a very calculated way. What will be interesting is seeing how mainstream strategy types are going to build nonsense into their no-nonsense models. Here's one idea: http://tinyurl.com/kapj8.

Do you think business buyers act out of irrational passion too -- or just consumers?

Posted by: Randy Cronk | Apr 27, 2006 4:49:37 PM

Kathy you say: "if we want to help our users explain their passion to others, we need to help give them the tools to do so"

I think there is a real fundamental reason behind this in the area of "buyer's remorse." Many times they go home and someone they care about shoots down the thing they've brought home, many times resulting in the purchase being brought back.

Creating tools to help 'strengthen' them in their resolve to keep their passion and the product simply makes good business sense also.

Posted by: Gary Bourgeault (managersrealm.com) | Apr 27, 2006 11:20:08 PM

I guess by your frequent linking to 37 signals you approve of their "passionate" insulting of customers, no matter what anyone thinks.


You mistake passion for immaturity.

Way to go.

Posted by: Not Billy Corgan | Apr 28, 2006 2:15:40 PM

It's funny, even though your blog is basically the exact opposite of mine, I really like your stuff. I just did a reaction entry to your "angry/negative people" post. neato.

Posted by: mr. negative | Apr 29, 2006 1:59:20 PM

Its true always. My Passion is better than yours. Passions are different for different people. I don't think anyone who is passionate about something have to go long way to explain that his passion is better. And that too to a person who is not at all into that. But clearly a good point of marketing comes here , where you are using the consumers of your product as a marketing agents. By providing them proper tools , you can create much bigger market.

Posted by: Deepak Gupta | May 6, 2006 6:54:09 PM

How can anyone be passionate about watching TV?

Posted by: Joseph Huang | May 18, 2006 11:49:46 AM

Kathy, this is so well said through the polar opposite you used to show exactly what happens. Ok, polar opposites...? Where is it that we learned to defend what we think or do and attack differences in others. You are onto a powerful need we have to learn the skills of tone -- which engages differences in ways they learn from them. Thanks for raising this and for showing many angles so well... wouldn't it be great if your post started a revolution to respect others and talk about differences in ways that build communities with many who come from other viewpoints. Wow -- sign me up! Thanks Kathy...

Posted by: Ellen Webern | Jun 2, 2006 5:08:35 AM

Passion. I keep looking for one. A few of the comments above have really given me some things to think about: Gardner Campbell's "Life is not a dress rehearsal," and Mattbq's "Some people will never be passionate about anything, but they'll spend mountains of money trying to buy themselves a passion and will probably confuse a lot of folks along the way :)"

Hate to admit it, but I feel like that's me. I just don't know what the hell I want to do with my life...professionally, I mean.

But I love the discourse on passion that you've got going here...It seems obvious that everyone is passionate about different things but I hadn't given that fact any real thought till I read Kathy's piece and the comments on it.

I'll keep looking for mine or trying to discover it, but I'll try not to confuse anyone or spend so much money, Matt.

Posted by: Jamillah Joseph | Apr 25, 2007 10:49:40 PM

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