006. On Passion and Love (Their Place in Business)

On Passion and Love: Their Place in Business

On Passion and Love: Their Place in Business


On Passion and Love:

Their Place in Business

by Michael J. Genevro

November 2006

And so we come to the end of my teaching on small business for this Fall Semester of 2006.

The end of a term or an academic year brings such a mixture of emotions. There is the relief that the hard work is over - except for tallying the final grades. There is a lifting of a burden - a burden that I bear in joy, but a burden nonetheless. There is also a sadness, a deep sorrow and sadness, at the passing of this moment, at the passing of the connections and bonds that we have built during the past months. So often, we speak bravely of keeping in touch, of getting together for lunch or coffee, of ... In the end, the words trail off into silence, the silence that engulfs the bonds and connections, as we each move on tho the next steps in our life journeys.

As this Fall Semester of 2006 closes for me (each of you, of course, will continue into Catherine's Business 397 class), as this semester closes for me, my thoughts turn to passion and love. These topics seem so remote from the practical reality of starting a business, of developing a business plan or of managing a business. Nevertheless, for you who have sat in these chairs during the Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, you know that those topics for me are at the core, the heart, of life - and, yes, our business activities are a part of life.

For many years, I resisted using the term "passion" in my work in the corporate world and in my teaching activities. Managers love to hear people talk about their passion for their work and for their company. All too often, managers and leaders use that term to hype up, to arouse, a team or an individual and, then, those same leaders use their "passion" to find a new and more rewarding position - leaving the hard work of implementing their passions to the individuals and teams whom they had "inspired." That passion, that inspiration, is more show than substance - a brilliant flash ending in the shadowy world of the trenches in the corporate world.

Nevertheless, during this semester, my skepticism about passion began to fade. The more that I work in the Career Center and teach business at Cañada College, the more comfortable I become with speaking about the role of passion in our life search.

There is a place for passion. It is the spark that ignites the fire. Passion is so close to enthusiasm, the fullness of spirit that radiates from our very being.

Within the first few moments in working with individuals, I can predict whether or not they will find work. If there is the spark, the enthusiasm, the passion for the search, they will find work and joyfully move on to the next stage of their life. If the spark is missing, if there is no light, the students or clients will wallow in uncertainty and probably go months and months without work.

There is a place for passion.

However, what happens when the passion wanes? What happens when the fire burns down to its embers? What happens when passion meets frustration and pain and sorrow? What happens when the inevitable disappointments of life douse the fires that were once so strong? What happens when boredom dulls the senses and stultifies the mind?

In life and in work, there are limits to passion. It is the flame that burns brightly, but briefly. What can sustain us through the long, winter nights? What can sustain us when the embers begin to cool, as a prelude to extinguishing?

It is at this point that love becomes the answer. Love is the "light that does not shine" of the Tao (LeGuin translation). It is the light of the Master. It is the light of the Tao. Love is the energy that sustains us in the midst of life's frustrations. Love is the energy that transforms those frustrations into merely facts of our existence.

Passion sparks. Love transforms. Passion lasts a moment. Love lasts a lifetime.

Love and love alone endures.

It is love alone that gives us the strength to pass through the dark night of the soul. It is love alone that enables to go on when all seems lost.It is love alone that guides us home from the wilderness of our lives. It is love alone that binds us together through joy and sorrow.

We like to think of business as existing outside the realm of the ultimate questions that we face in life. Life exists outside the walls of our enclosure. To be involved with people demands that we confront the ultimate questions, questions whose only answer is love.

We pass through this world for such a brief time. In our concrete and steel world, our footprints leave no impression. There are places on the earth where we can find the footprints of people who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago. In our world, our footprints on the concrete and asphalt walkways leave no memory of our passing.

And yet we make a difference. We have an impact. Every action, every thought, has an impact - has an impact that reaches to the ends of the universe.

During this semester, one of the great characters of downtown Menlo Park passed away - Dorris, a sales clerk from local small business. Dorris was in her 80's. I felt a close bond with her because she knew my parents and, even more, because, like my wife, she had battled with cancer. Every time I went to the store, I tried to see Dorris. We would talk for a few moments about family and illness and life. Inevitably the conversation would move to Dorris's plan for taking my wife to Las Vegas to hunt for men. At least she let me know what she was planning. She lived joyfully and, behind the scenes no doubt, fought fiercely.

What does Dorris have to do with love and business?

During her illness, she remained an employee of the store. After her recovery, she continued to work for a number of years, even as she traversed the passage from her 70's to 80's. When she died, the store posted a simply photo of Dorris, smiling in the midst of a party or celebration. The staff closed the store to attend her funeral. Towards the middle of October, the picture on the door came down; a few feet away a black wreath appeared in the window display - a decoration for Halloween and a touching reminder of the life that had passed our way.

Dorris was infinitely more than an employee in that store. She loved and cared about others - including my family. She was loved by customers, by her peers, and by the owner of the small shop. To paraphrase Peter Drucker, she was not simply an employee; she was a person who loved and was loved in the midst of merchandise and cash register receipts.

We cannot avoid the realities of business. If we do not manage our cash flow, our business can collapse under the weight of unfunded costs and expenses. If we do not turn a profit over time, our investors will lose faith and move their funds into more lucrative ventures. If we do not control our books and our bank accounts, we can find the very employees whom we hired siphoning our profits into their own pockets.

Our businesses exist to serve the needs of our customers - needs ranging from physical to social to personal. If we do not meet real needs in our customers, our businesses will cease to exist.

Licenses, permits, zoning regulations, OSHA, environmental impact statements ----> ignore these realities at your own peril. Ignore these realities and face closure by the state.

Marketing and sales ---> hide your candle under a bushel and find yourself with lots of spare time and spare goods and no spare change.

And yet is that all that matters in business? Is business only a function of balancing expenses and revenue?

Business is more than the real or virtual walls that define the limits of our space and our inventories.

Business is a social activity. Businesses are social institutions. Businesses depend ultlimately on the people who produce the goods and services and people who purchase the physical or virtual output of our efforts. They are a part of society. We spend half our waking hours in the work world - and a large part of our "non-working" time trying to undo the damage from work time. Statistically, most likely time for a man to have a heart attack is 9 am on Monday morning. Now, pretend that business does not have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of our lives.

Business is a transformative institution. Businesses have a deep and lasting impact on people - for better or for worse.

When businesses treat people only as employees or, even worse, only as head count on an organization chart, they run the risk of dehumanizing people, of turning them into objects to be manipulated, to be re-structured and to be discarded.

When businesses treat people as individuals, as precious lives and beings with whom, in Robert Kennedy's phrase, we share this brief moment of existence, businesses affirm and enhance the humanity of their workers and customers; they add value far beyond the goods and services and salaries they provide. In these situations, businesses forge bonds, connections based ultimately on love that can transform individuals and change our sorrowful world.

In the end, each of us will be remembered. Each of us leave a mark on the lives of those whom we encounter in this life. How will you be remembered? How do you want to be remembered? How will you shape and transform your life to ensure that the memory of you leaves a warm glow in the hearts of those who crossed your path during your brief journey through this world?

When life is the question, love is the answer.