I had an interesting on-line conversation this past week with a classmate in a Coursera course I have been taking. If you are not familiar with Coursera it is part of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) phenomenon that offers hundreds of free university and college courses on-line. The discussion started when a member in one of the discussion groups asked whether, when setting up a business, they should target the mass market, or go for a niche market. This solicited one respondent to state “I believe in order to be competitive in a crowded market that I would be better off acting as a specialist within a particular niche. This way I do not have to compete directly with my competitors.” I was getting a sense from this and other similar comments that the focus seemed to be strictly on meeting a need, then going out and filling it. Which is important. But to me, the discussion was missing something else. Finding your niche may also be about finding where your passion is.
I have spent 40 years as a sales manager in a variety of industries and services. Over the years I’ve had to deal with a lot of different issues and situations. My roles required me to hire, train, coach, develop and terminate individuals. I’ve had the opportunity to sit on operations committees, HR committees and IT committees. Through those experiences, along with my more “formal” education, I determined, not only what my interest was, but even more importantly, where my passion was.
I did agree with another comment in the on-line forum: “there has to be a good balance between the entrepreneur’s passion and the realistic need for a product or service that customers will pay for.” As with all things balance is important, as are the skills and competencies of the entrepreneur, but I can’t help thinking that without passion, the enterprise could easily fail at the first sign of trouble or with the first failure, as undoubtedly there would be one.
Tony Hsieh, internet entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos, in his book Delivering Happiness: A path to Profits (Business Plus, 2010), places Passion as one of his three types of happiness, the other two being Pleasure and Higher Purpose. Hsieh stated that “Passion is also known as ‘flow’ where peak performance meets peak engagement, and time flies”. Flow is what athletes and artists often refer to as “being in the zone”. Goleman in Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, (Bantam, 1995) calls “flow” the ultimate motivator. Chade-Meng Tan in his book, Search inside Yourself, (Harper One, 2012) stated that “Flow occurs when the task at hand matches the skill level of the practitioner, such that it is difficult enough to provide a challenge but not so difficult that it overwhelms the practitioner”. I like that image, of being in the zone, where there is still a challenge, but it is not so great to make you feel discouraged.
I was having lunch with someone not so long ago talking about my plans for my new enterprise. She stated how it was obvious how “passionate” I was about it. That made me feel good because it validated that I was doing the right thing. How about you? When did someone tell you how passionate you sounded about an idea? How did that make you feel?