How Passion for Work can Kill Your Creativity

September 26th, 2011 by Kelly Kienzle

If we are intensely focused on our work, then great results will follow, right?

goldfish jumping out of the waterThis is what we’ve been told since childhood about persistence, practice and perseverance.  Yet, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Increase Your Passion for Work Without Becoming Obsessed,” an important distinction was made between harmonious passion and obsessive passion.  Based on the work of Robert Vallerand, harmonious passion is when you are in the flow of your work, when time flies by unnoticed and you are fueled by your work from all areas of your life.  Obsessive passion is when you are controlled by your work, time flies by at a frighteningly stressful pace, and you are drained by your work with no remaining energy for the other parts of your life.

Yet most of us have a mountain of responsibilities to attend to each day.  How can we scale this mountain unless we give it every iota of energy and time available?  Assuming we are truly passionate about our “mountain”, then the answer is startling simple: we should not work less, but we should work differently.  We must stop our endless task list (think of the constant influx of your inbox).  Then use our innate creativity to envision a new possible solution and harmonious passion.  If we are able to see a new possibility or solution, then I believe we have accomplished three goals in one stroke:

  1. For our team – We have found a new, more efficient way to complete the task at hand
  2. For our organization – We have made a unique contribution to our team that increases our value as a “one-of-a-kind” team member.
  3. For ourselves – We have reignited our creativity thus increasing our self-confidence and fitting one more piece of the life-long puzzle of who we are.

That’s a pretty significant return on investment for just stopping for a few minutes and looking around for a new solution.

So how do we know when we have tipped the balance past harmonious passion and have entered the stifling realm of obsessive passion?  To ensure we remain in an environment where our creativity can thrive, we must build our skills of self-awareness.  To do this, I would ask you to consider these questions:

  • When did you last feel creative at work?
  • What put you in that state of creativity?
  • What changes did it bring about?
  • How could you re-create that state again?

It is our creativity that defines our unique value on a team, our organization’s difference from the competition and the path we take through our daily life.  So we must be vigilant that we are nurturing it continuously.  Because what defines you more than your ability to think creatively and like no one else?

How do you want to be creative in your work?  What will you do to direct your passion into a harmonious, positive change for your team, your organization and yourself?  If you are interested in discovering these answers through leadership coaching, then please drop me a note. 

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

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