Sizing up passion vs. process

BBH's Asia-Pacific chairman says a sense of mission is worth a bit of chaos

A while back I wrote about whether client organizations could be segmented into four broad groups (not to be taken too seriously, although I think it contained a grain or two of truth).

But now, I wonder if I made it too complex. Are there only really two kinds of client company, with significant implications for the work we produce for them?

  • Ones that have a passion for what they do. Who have a sense of what their companies are here for. Not necessarily some profound, ethical mission, but certainly a strong sense of purpose.
  • And ones that are simply following a process.

There is often more than a hint of chaos about the former and a far greater degree of professionalism about the latter.

But I would argue it is the passionate who stand, on balance, a greater chance of business success, even if they are often not as organized as the latter group.

It's simply human nature. We are naturally drawn toward charisma. To genuine belief and passion. To vision. To strong leaders. In a world of corporate blandness, it can't help but stand out.

When I was growing up in Britain, I lived 20 miles up the road from the Aston Martin factory. Naturally enough we did a school trip there where we saw teams of workers hand building each Aston at separate workstations. Even at the end of the 1970s (not the most glamorous decade in British history) it felt very cool.

Forty miles north of us, British Leyland was churning out some of the worst cars in automotive history. Delights such as the Allegro and the Princess. I'm sure the engineers in each factory came from similar backgrounds and most likely started their working lives at 15 as apprentices.

While one group was turning out things of beauty (most of which I'll wager are still on the road) the other was stuck in a system that was simply following corporate protocols and as a result building some of the least appealing cars ever (and the most unreliable – especially if yours was built on a Friday afternoon when everyone just wanted to get out of there).

One group was proud and passionate about what it did. The other wanted to go to the pub.

And I think the same applies to our business. There are brands with a real mission as well as a set of sales targets. And there are brands that just have the sales targets and a mandated marketing process to try and reach them.

You know who they are. And nine times out of 10 you'll be doing your best work on the ones that have a mission. A sense of purpose. Because they have a charisma that you are also drawn to and can be part of.

Because they have a passion for what they do.

Charles Wigley is Asia-Pacific chairman at BBH.

This article first appeared on

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