Entrepreneurial Passion

We have all seen motivation memes about passion. Some popular ones include: "passion never fails", "I live my passion", "follow your passion", "passion is priceless", "passion is purpose", "make your passion your paycheck", "your passion is your success", "ignite your passion", "find your passion", "your passion will find you" . . .

We have also witnessed entrepreneurial passion on display when entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors. TV shows like Dragon's Den and Shark Tank have helped to place passion at the center of our attributions of potential entrepreneurial success. "I like your passion" is a hallmark comment preceding made-for-TV deal-making.

Passion and entrepreneurship

Over the last two decades, entrepreneurship researchers have started to unpack the concept of entrepreneurial passion, which has long been a mainstay of motivational rhetoric about entrepreneurship.

"Passion inspires us to work harder and with greater effect. The irony is that we hardly notice our effort. It comes easily and enjoyably" (Chang, 2002).

Perhaps entrepreneurs view their ventures as their babies and nurture them with a similar level of passion that parents feel toward their human children (Cardon et al., 2005). Perhaps entrepreneurship researchers need to pay more attention to emotions when explaining entrepreneurial behaviors.

Vallerand et al. (2003) argue that there are two main types of passion:
  1. "Obsessive passion (OP) refers to a controlled internalization of an activity in one’s identity that creates an internal pressure to engage in the activity that the person likes." 
  2. "Harmonious passion (HP) refers to an autonomous internalization that leads individuals to choose to engage in the activity that they like. HP promotes healthy adaptation whereas OP thwarts it by causing negative affect and rigid persistence"
These concepts have been recently been put to use in some empirical studies. For instance, Thorgen and Wincent (2015) find that entrepreneurial passion is greater among serial entrepreneurs than first time entrepreneurs. They find portfolio entrepreneurs (those with multiple simultaneous business interests) have the highest levels of harmonious passion.

However, before we take passion too seriously, let's consider other possibilities. For example, Gielnik et al. (2015) offer a very different perspective. Their analyses suggest the potential for reverse causation where entrepreneurial effort leads to business success, which in turn feeds passion. This result suggests that nurturing passion is not so much a matter of pumping yourself up...rather it's more of a side-effect of success.

There is also a selection problem in that most failed entrepreneurs would not make it into the datasets. Maybe they had passion too!

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