Finding Your Passion

[This post was written in response to the email that is being generated by the Waterloo TEDx video, Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.]

Since pursuing your passion is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, for a great career, it becomes logically essential to find your passion as a starting point.

Nevertheless, many persons struggle to find their passions. What mistakes are they making?

Often they assume that finding one’s passion is a matter of luck. They see that some persons seem to have found their passions as children. Often, others just seem to just trip over their passion as they move into adulthood. The process seems random and difficult to see as a methodical process of search.

Yes, some are lucky. Teaching is their passion and as a 5-year old, they wake up in classroom and they are home for life. And even as they have new experiences, they notice that their first love grows only stronger.

Others have the luck of being born into a family in which a family member or friend shows them a domain that immediately engages them, or slowly sneaks up on them. In the absence of the lucky circumstance of their family, the search would have been longer and more challenging.

But notice that some who pursue a childhood or family “interest” do so only as a convenient default choice. It was there and so they chose it to avoid further thought or uncertainty. It is hardly an interest and never mind a passion, although they may speak of it very positively – the better to tell themselves or others that they made a “wise” choice.

The majority do not have the advantage of circumstance, and therefore have no choice but to search for their passion methodically.

Many of these persons fail to find their passion because they either fail to search methodically, or they do not search persistently. Some will simply not commit the time and energy to a search that can often be frustrating. In fact, they want their destiny to find them; they do not want to find it themselves. But only rarely does destiny come knocking.

You cannot find your passion idly staring into space, hoping for it to appear as a revelation, expecting it to appear from one book, article, blog posting or casual conversation. Passion is rarely found in a bar or on Mother Google’s home page.

Those who search and find their passion place themselves in intensely stimulating environments, and stay there until the job is done. It can be intellectually exhausting.

There are many such environments. Some read voraciously; others seek out many persons in many situations and engage them in intense conversation. Some do both. Others visit every major museum and gallery in North America. They find their passion by immersing themselves in a panoply of human experience.

But you cannot just read, talk or experience. You must also have your mind in high gear. You must be fully engaged, reading and thinking to a purpose. You must be constantly saying to yourself about whatever book, fact, argument, person or experience is at hand: Why? What if? Why don’t they?

Yes, it is intense. And yes, too few are practiced in this art, no matter their level of education.

But you will never find your passion in the modern way: by surfing or browsing. Recognize the superficiality implied by those words and by our impatient thoughtless world.

You will have to stand against the popular culture to find your passion. Too many do not have the independence of mind or force of commitment to do so.

Take the time you need. Recognize your mind’s natural tendency to resolve its painful uncertainty by rushing to judgment, even to the judgment that it is time to give up.

How will you recognize your passion when you encounter it? Usually, it is quite easy. One moment you are reading in hopes of finding a topic of great interest; then you find you are reading and do not want to stop. It almost feels as if you cannot stop. Or you find yourself in a regular conversation, and you start talking with excitement about an idea or possibility. Or you find yourself in an activity and you lose track of time itself.
The rule of passion is simple: the mind cannot stop thinking about that which it loves.

It is what you would do even if you won a lottery.

For some the realization is sudden, as if they reach a critical mass of experience and it coalesces into a complete and compelling vision. For others, it is a slow process, each piece coming into view separately until the puzzle is revealed.

Even with a passion identified, there is a common pitfall. Some persons know or find their passion, and then with little thought, relying on no more than popular opinion, they dismiss the passion as one that “cannot be turned into a livelihood” with any reasonable degree of assurance. And they move on to try to find a second, more practical love. That is not necessarily a bad choice since one could certainly have more than one love. [It does though seem unfortunate that some struggle to find one passion, and others have multiple ones.]

But before you look for a second love, you should carefully, intensively and creatively examine whether your first found love could support a career. Research the experiences of those who have found ways to pursue as livelihoods the strangest of passions. Never take conventional wisdom as anything other than folklore, to be tested against your logic, information and experiences.

We must also reiterate in conclusion that passion is necessary for a great career, but it is not sufficient. There’s no magic here. Success also demands patience, persistence, focus, discipline, independence of mind, resourcefulness, experimentation and high creativity.

Economic Outlook 2014

There has been no post on the macro-economy in more than a year for the simple reason that there has been little upon which to comment. As we have long argued, growth in the developed world is going to be slow at best. And so it has proved to be true. The outlook for the next year is similar. The good news is that the threat of recession has abated; but secure and sustained growth at our best historical rates is unlikely. The reasons which account for persistently slow growth remain the same. Rising competition around the globe restrains employment levels. For example in the US, the number of people seeking to work has fallen sharply, explaining a primary cause for decline of the US unemployment rate. While the US has finally passed a budget, it is too soon to declare that America has stepped back from complete political dysfunction. And all of its long term problems await. Europe continues to make small progress, even as some of its states drift along, one millimetre from disaster. Political and military tension in and around the Ukraine merely adds to the uncertainty. India is now in one of its frequent periods of political paralysis, with most of its long term challenges unaddressed. China is holding its own for the moment, as its authoritarian government continues to struggle with the country’s inherent contradictions. We should keep in mind that about half of China’s GDP and employment arise from its state-owned enterprises. Its commitment to the marketplace remains half-hearted at best.

The most fundamental reason that the world’s political institutions are struggling to create coherent policy is because they are all having to adjust to a global economy. This is a radically new circumstance, the entire planet recently stitched into a web of commerce, finance and communication. How to cope challenges us all.

It is important to note that this anemic growth is occurring even though we are fueling the economic engine with extraordinarily low interest rates. It is as if we pouring gasoline on a slowly smoldering fire and the embers just burn a bit more brightly. Where is the fire? Clearly the fuel is water-logged with the problems noted above. With interest rates at near zero, all we get is slow growth!

Overlaying all the factors that account for slow growth is the greatest economic uncertainty of all: what will happen when the world’s central bankers start to remove the monetary stimulus that is giving us such low rates. Such historically low levels cannot be sustained indefinitely, one presumes. Surely inflationary pressure will increase. Or will it? Or have we killed inflation for a generation? Or is inflation about to erupt with a vengeance? But would that at least mean growth is seriously accelerating? Or might we get low growth and high inflation? The plain truth is that the situation is so dynamically complex and so unprecedented, we cannot answer any of the above questions with any reasonable degree of assurance. We can guess or we can hope. But that is not forecast.

But let us guess that as growth starts to accelerate and inflation moves up modestly, the central bankers will respond with measured, that is, small steps. That much might be clear. But we have no way of knowing what will happen next. Will investors panic or stay logically calm? Will real investment come to a halt? What happens to consumption of big-ticket items like cars? What happens to the world’s property markets? What happens if we stay calm when the bankers start withdrawing the stimulus and then freak out when it becomes clear they might spend the next five years raising interest rates? Slow torture? Again, there are no rigorous evidence-based answers to these questions.

Welcome to a world with economic uncertainty higher than it has ever been since the Second World War.

Opportunity Amid the Tumult: Part 2

As this space previously anticipated, 2012 produced disruptions, dislocations and crises in a slow growth world. China slowed as it changed its leadership in a totally opaque manner. India slowed, amid the usual chaos and corruption, but with citizens demanding improvement. The European Union endures its slow-motion public debt crisis, the result of indecision coupled with bad decisions. And then there is the United States.

The only modestly positive event was the re-election of Mr. Obama. This was helpful to America solely because the alternative candidate was so wrong-headed about so many issues, when he was not being totally vacuous. The difficulty is that Mr. Obama remains, what we have long noted, a president devoid of strategic vision or a killer instinct. As a result, he now presides over a fully dysfunctional government. The largest economy on earth dances on the edge of disaster, without any coherent economic policy, never mind actual budget. As with the previous debt ceiling fiasco, the debate over the “fiscal cliff” is incoherently stupid, ignore of the facts unless it is denying them. All the while, Mr. Obama pleads for compromise and good will as if he were teaching a civics class in high school. He is still incapable of saying that compromise is impossible because the other side are fools. So America proves itself incapable even of managing its short term finances; all its long term problems, like the erosion of its educational system and its unfunded health and social system, are unaddressed.

Let us remember that Mr. Obama barely won against an inept opponent and with America’s changing demographics on his side. The Senate and House of Representatives remain as before, with the idiots in charge in the House and the no-ideas-at-all Democrats barely able to run the Senate. Mr. Obama failed to defeat his enemies in the House, and there is no sign that he really tried. His highly accomplished financing and campaign machinery is rolled out only in presidential elections and only for him. Notice that the media barely covers any of Mr. Obama’s initiatives to regain the House and strengthen his hand in the Senate; that was because there was not much to cover.  But he cannot bring himself to do so since he would have to shed his bipartisan identity. Unfortunately, America needs a political street fighter.

So the world’s future is its immediate past, as the pressures of the global economy cause political indecision abetted by a confused and misinformed public.  Canada retains its better than normal situation, the result of a handful of sensible decisions made years ago, but still struggles not to get swamped in the churning waters of planetary pressures.

So what is an individual to do in such an environment?  Bet on the consequences of stupidity.

The economic environment continues to become harsher. The usual consequences of more competitors is the need to work more effectively and innovate faster, even as profits inevitably shrink and worker compensation falls. This result of the global economy would have been challenging enough with rapid growth.  But slow growth removes the lubrication of the rising output, making adaptation even more painful. Bet on this.

Serious advantage awaits those whose products and services offer either edge or escape.

Edge in the competitive wars means either a powerful productivity tool, or a commanding marketing facility.  Be a innovator who develops them. Or an entrepreneur who introduces them. Or an investor who supports those who do.

But many companies offering productivity or marketing tools seem not to be thriving.  And this just adds to the opportunity since it is being poorly exploited by some of those who claim to see the opportunity.  The problem is that they are fighting yesterday’s economic wars, with tools too modest to achieve much advantage.  They look for quick and obvious answers, ones that do not take too much rigorous thought, that do not require challenging conventional wisdom, that do not require uncertain experimentation and that do not march into spooky realms of creative thought.

So we are swamped with analytics of all kinds. But the world does not need more data; it needs answers, solutions and decisions. So where is the software that tells managers what to do, directly and exactly? Impossible? Too complicated? Are you so sure?

[A few companies know that "decision" software  scares people; so they call it analytics when it is something quite beyond. Know who?]

Escape is also a sure bet. In a fiercely demanding world, escape from its pressures is highly valued today, and will be more highly valued tomorrow.  And as with edge products, much opportunity abounds, left by those who look for the obvious and easy. The world of escape products is wildy uneven, producing handsome profits one minute and punishing losses the next.  The classic problem is that an escape product [game, song, movie etc] quickly loses its appeal since diminishing benefit sets in quickly.  So social media booms since it is the newest escape product.  But what happens when its appeal fades, as it will. Or what strategy might help it evolve into an ever morphing seductive environment? It does not have that attribute yet.

So you think that the users, so many unique people together, will find ways to entertain themselves forever? Really? Then why is YouTube, which used to be sure user-generated content was all it needed, looks to other sources?

Why does the movie and game industry produce such erratic profits? Too many sequels? Too much imitation? Too little creativity? Too little risk taking? What is really wrong with this picture?

Further discussion involving opportunity will be provided in subsequent postings.

May 2013 be a year of success and conquest.

[Why was there such a long interruption between postings? Larry was thinking.]