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Posted on: Friday, 05 June 2015 by Rajiv Popat

What can a guy who has failed his entire life teach you about being passionate about your career? A lot; especially when that guy happens to be a guy who failed his way to success and ended up giving this to the world:

Scott Adams is not just the creator of Dilbert but in his own words: a professional simplifier.

I've talked about the perils of the passion hypothesis but Scott's dissection and simplification of the passion hypothesis, in his book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, is blunt and yet, shockingly real (like most of his comic strips).

In his book, Scott grabs the passion hypothesis by its horns and throws it flat on the ground, using a pinch of humor with some bitter sweet reality. Scott explains how passion is overrated in today's world and how it's nothing more than bullshit:

You often hear advice from successful people that you should “follow your passion.” That sounds perfectly reasonable the first time you hear it. Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection, and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. Those are all good things, right?

Here’s the counterargument: When I was a commercial loan officer for a large bank in San Francisco, my boss taught us that you should never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. For example, you don’t want to give money to a sports enthusiast who is starting a sports store to pursue his passion for all things sporty. That guy is a bad bet, passion and all. He’s in business for the wrong reason.

My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over thirty years, said the best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.

The argument Scott makes is that the individual who are driven by their passion often lose their head and take irrational decisions when left to make a choice between realities and their whimsical dreams and so-called passions. The ones who are passionate and are not grinders are even worse.

Scott provides a very compelling argument about why Passion sells in today's world and why so many self-help Guru's and even successful individuals (like Steve Jobs) sell passion. Scott explains:

Passionate people who fail don’t get a chance to offer their advice to the rest of us. But successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions about their secrets for success every day.

Naturally those successful people want you to believe that success is a product of their awesomeness, but they also want to retain some humility. You can’t be humble and say, “I succeeded because I am far smarter than the average person.”

But you can say your passion was a key to your success, because everyone can be passionate about something or other. Passion sounds more accessible. If you’re dumb, there’s not much you can do about it, but passion is something we think anyone can generate in the right circumstances. Passion feels very democratic. It is the people’s talent, available to all.

What's really impressive about Scott's writing is his open hearted honest confessions about how most success (including his own) works:

It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion. The ones that didn’t work out—and that would be most of them—slowly drained my passion as they failed. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded.

For example, when I invested in a restaurant with an operating partner, my passion was sky-high. And on day one, when there was a line of customers down the block, I was even more passionate. In later years, as the business got pummeled, my passion evolved into frustration and annoyance. The passion disappeared.

On the other hand, Dilbert started out as just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try. When it started to look as if it might be a success, my passion for cartooning increased because I realized it could be my golden ticket. In hindsight, it looks as if the projects I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

Grab a copy of the book and just like you see a directionless seeker in Steve Jobs in the book Little Bets, you'll see Scott make literally dozens of little bets in his life and nearly failing badly and royally in most of them.

By the time you're done with the book all  you can do is wonder how much more inspired we would be to work hard; and just how many stupid startup disasters would the world avoid, if only more successful people started keeping their humility aside, stopped using politically correct democratic clichés like Passion, and talked about the real ingredients of successful life. At-least we would avoid discussions like these in our offices:

If you're thinking of dropping out of your job without a concrete residual income and a solid real life validation of your plan just because you want to follow your passion, don't you think that you've been reading too many self-help books lately?

Why not give a thought to the thought that your passion for your new found business, as Scott Adams puts it in artistically exaggerated style - may really be nothing more than... Bullshit?