A passion for obsession


Everyone admires someone with tremendous passions, but if you have tremendous obsessions for the same things, you’re considered “scary.” It’s like the difference between a renaissance man and a madman.

I understand this. I’ve accumulated many passions over the years, ranging from food and wine, fly-tying and snowboard instruction to cross cultural communications. I can now sense when it’s happening. It’s that same sensation as falling in love for the first time. It’s euphoria coupled with a slight sense of reckless abandon. There’s nothing quite like it, for good and bad.

However, like falling in love, the passionate phase typically falls victim to life or business taking over. What was passion now becomes “work.”

The business case for obsession

Obsessions, on the other hand, are a bit more persistent. An obsession for another person could get you arrested. But I would argue that an obsession in business can be much more important than a passion. From a personal branding perspective, a “passion for obsession,” if channeled, can be one of the most powerful attributes in one’s professional portfolio.

Legendary Indy driver Mario Andretti best described it as, “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”

I know many may be reading this saying, “I’m happy just to have passionate employees; why do I need to staff up with high maintenance people who have professional OCD?”

In a recent blog I discussed the necessity for enterprises to “swarm” innovation. This strategy requires high performance teams that are totally focused on the creative disruption at hand during the most critical period of the launch. Experiences with such launches tell me that obsession is a critical skill set in leading and assembling those teams.

Being obsessed with both product and process

Whether you are an “obsessed leader” or “leader of the obsessed,” the challenge is one of being obsessed equally with both the product and the thrill of the startup process. I say this because I’ve experienced far too many self-proclaimed “startup experts” who live for the thrill of launching businesses to flip or go public, and have little obsession for the product. The product simply becomes a vehicle for the start-up euphoria but not the central driver of constructive relentlessness.

This obsessive behavior does not come without its risks. As the opening graphic says, there is a fine line between the admiration for the passionate and the weirdness of the obsessed.

For example, in my most recent professional obsession, I find that some aspects of delegation become a challenge. This manifests itself in the uncontrollable need to learn every aspect of the market, the product, the buying behavior and the organization on my own, first hand, with no other human filters. This contrasts with professional passions where I have been more than happy to have staff member conduct due diligence and report back to me with findings.

In my past writings, I’ve referred to the notion of feral management, or the need for senior executives to embed themselves into the “wilds” of the marketplace. This is essentially a key element in the obsession for first-hand data.

Unfortunately, some subordinates may feel frustrated by what seems to be a lack of trust in them conducting research or due diligence as they normally would. Others may feel that their professional growth is being stifled by the experiential hoarding of their superior.

While human resources may argue otherwise, this is not the time to pull back on obsession! It is the time to expand by building a team that is equally inspired and driven by a compulsion for innovation.

Passion is simply not enough.


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  1. […] for speed” and espouse the legendary Formula One driver Mario Andretti’s mantra mentioned in a previous blog: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast […]

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