Byron's Babbles

Passion At Ambition’s Command

Posted in Ambition, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Passion, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 14, 2020

We teach that having passion is a key to success, particularly when linked with purpose. History, however, teaches us that passion can become destructive. Research in psychology describes this destructive passion as “obsessive passion.” The good passion is “harmonious passion.” My recent reading has given examples of two individuals where obsessive passion drove the individuals to become power hungry.

“His passions were at ambition’s command.” ~ James A. Caro in The Path To Power

In The Path To Power, Robert A. Caro said that Lyndon B. Johnson‘s passions were at ambition’s command. Johnson was obsessed with power and couldn’t get enough of it. The ambition for power and becoming president took over and clouded any purposeful passion for helping the people of our country. Everything he did and anyone he helped was dependent on what he could get out of it, or what power could be derived. When obsessive passion takes over with ambition calling the shots, the person’s self-worth becomes validated by whatever the ambition is. In the case of Lyndon Johnson that ambition was power.

Another person I recently studied who let obsessive passion take over was Elizabeth Holmes, Founder and CEO of Theranos. I read about her in Bad Blood: Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. She had purpose and passion for a world changing blood testing and analysis machine that only needed a drop or two of blood to run a myriad of tests. Her company wasn’t able to meet performance standards or efficacy. She is still involved in legal actions against her including criminal charges. Her ambition was for success as defined by celebrity, power, and greed instead of purpose for significance. To read more about this check out When Purpose and Passion Turn Into Ambition.

Deep Innovation

As a self proclaimed energetic change agent, I had a great chance to check my values and views toward innovation while reading the awesome book, Innovation For The Fatigued: How To Build A Culture Of Deep Creativity by Alf Rehn. Rehn argued that we have become “shallow innovators” and need to start practicing “deep innovation.” One problem is we start using the same old rhetoric that makes us think we are “maverick innovators,” being “transformative,” or practicing “disruptive thinking.” We think these buzzwordy titles mean we are innovating, but really we are merely tinkering around the edges and making superficial changes. See why I gave this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️?

“Innovation has become a tired buzzword.” ~ Alf Rehn

According to Rehn, we need to focus on big solutions. In order to have deep innovation we need to start from scratch, or go in an entirely different direction. Real innovation, Rehn posited, looks beyond what we do and know now. One of my big takeaways was that we need to stop directing so much time and talent on incremental change. Many times we take the easy way out and make ourselves feel better, saying we are taking baby steps.

“Innovation history teaches us that human beings are terrible at identifying innovative ideas.” ~ Alf Rehn (p. 54)

Another part of the book that really jumped out at me was the section entitled “The Curse of Expertise” (p. 54). I have always worried about getting caught up listening to so called “experts.” In fact, I have blogged about my dislike of experts many times in Thanks For Not Being An Expert, Decision Making vs Problem Solving – and Why the Difference Matters, and Dig In & Stop Guessing. Rehn explained that many great ideas have been killed before they had a chance to prove themselves by these so called “experts.” Rehn said, “As curious as it sounds, the better we are at something and the more expertise we’ve amassed, the worse we often get” (p. 55). It is not that experts are bad, but we just should not rely on their word as the final word. Experts often forget that their expertise represents a very small part of the world’s total wealth of knowledge. We have a tendency to overestimate what experts know and want to use their opinions carte blanche. I see this happen a lot in policy decisions.

Finally, Rehn advised us to cultivate a culture of innovation. We need a certain amount of trust and an environment where we are able to voice our ideas or opinions without fear of censure or dismissal. This is what Amy Edmondson coined as “Psychological Safety.” If we lack an innovative culture we will only practice “shallow innovation” instead of “deep innovation.” This will then eat away at our organization’s purpose, according to Rehn. The loss of purpose will ruin an organization and affect employees at every pay grade of an organization.

So, let’s create a culture of innovation so we can practice “deep innovation” and change the world!