Passion and Performance

Why is passion so powerful?

German Wright Flyer stamp. Source: Wikipedia

In 1890 Samuel Pierpont Langley wanted to be the first man to fly a powered airplane. He did what many successful administrators do: he assembled the most powerful team he could think of. He got a grant from the War Department; he hired engineers, inventors, and a test pilot. What he didn’t understand—the internal combustion engine, for example—he contracted out. He courted the press and famous writers, like Rudyard Kipling. He had already created a number of successful models. How could he fail?

But out in Dayton, Ohio a couple of bike-shop enthusiasts—Orville and Wilbur Wright–were also experimenting. Their team didn’t have a lot of credentials. In fact, no one working with them even had a college degree. The engine they developed generated a measly 12 horsepower, versus Langley’s 50 hp model. But they had passion.

In 1903 they made the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Over the next couple years they turned their flying machine into a practical fixed-wing aircraft. Their fundamental breakthrough was the invention of three-axis control, which allowed the pilot to steer the aircraft and maintain control. Today, every novice pilot has to understand roll, pitch, and yaw.

Why did the Wrights get there first? It wasn’t luck. Both teams had motivated, scientific minds. Both teams were talented and worked hard. But for the Wright brothers, human-powered flight wasn’t a hobby or pet project. It was their life. Their passion was infectious, and it inspired others to join them in creating something that would truly change the world.

Source: Farnum Street Blog

Have you ever worked on a project you loved? One you were so absorbed with that you didn’t notice the time? You have to remember to eat, you wake up in the middle of the night and scribble notes, you devour everything you can read on the subject. Some of your best ideas come to you while exercising or in the shower. It consumes you. Work doesn’t feel like work, it’s more like scratching an itch—the more you scratch, the more it itches.

This is why culture eats strategy. Winning teams live, eat, and breathe their products. When Warren Buffett wanted to meet with Chick-fil-A’s executives, they ordered—naturally—Chick-fil-A sandwiches for lunch in their boardroom. Great leaders inspire followers with more than money. People who are inspired are the ones who overcome obstacles and go on to change the world.

Calvin Coolidge once noted that the world was full of educated and talented derelicts. It’s passion—the slogan “Press On!’’—that wins the day.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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