Thursday, June 11, 2009

When passion alone isn't enough: a lesson of survival when your business is turned on its head


Picked up this hilarious video off The Daily Show website on the challenges facing newspapers, in this case The New York Times. There are few bigger fans of the NY Times than me, yet I couldn't help be surprised at the tone of the Times managers. Don't know if it was smugness or self importance, but these guys came across as virtually clueless as to what is happening around them. I'm sure they are passionate about what they do, but passion alone is not enough in itself. And that's one of the problems with the mass media these days. Reporters and editors revel in their passion for the business and believe that this passion for their craft should be enough to save their jobs. After all, isn't what they do important? And if it's important to them, shouldn't society value it? But passion alone entitles you to absolutely nothing. It doesn't solve changing reader habits and interests and it certainly doesn't address the revenue issues. The problem is this: passion can mask the real problems facing an industry, and simply being passionate about it falls well short of becoming part of the solution.

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A doctor may be passionate about medicine and helping people, but if he doesn't hire people to deal with the insurance companies, she'll soon be out of business. A documentary film maker may be passionate about her subject, but if she doesn't find someone to market and help fund it, no one will never see it. I'm sure the GM workers were passionate about making cars in Michigan, but if no one is buying Pontiacs, what value is that passion? Likewise, reporters and editors talk about their passion for their business, but it's a passion as only they choose to selectively define it. Passion is only valuable if it comes with the ability to change and accept that everything you may do tomorrow may be different. To be part of the solution, and not to simply whine that things have changed and the rules have changed. Unions love to cling to their "rules," but many times these rules have been rendered obsolete by the market. So simply clinging to the work as you define it may reflect your passion, but it's a recipe for eventually being out of work. I'd trade a pound of passion for an ounce of flexibility and problem solving in a minute.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Umm...isn't this a bit insensitive, given that you just laid off a bunch of reporters? So you're basically saying that they weren't "flexible" enough to stay at the Californian?

Dave Plivelich said...

As you know I am a big proponent of being passionate. I also believe in the definition of insanity that I heard once. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. You can't sit back and complain and yes, you can't sit back and ignore reality either. Being passionate and being positive is simply a mindset to be in that clears the path to thinking of ways to reinvent yourself and/or your company. The situation you may be in is what it is. The present is just like the past you cannot change the situation only the viewpoint of what that situation is. Just like prayer or hoping to me it is pointless if you are not also going to take actions that are inline with achieving or receiving the desired result. It may mean, downsizing, adding additional services, getting creative, etc.

As always, I thoroughly enjoy your blog and happy birthday once again.

Richard Beene said...

Anon:
Not sure where you're coming from. Layoffs are one of the consequences of down business cycles, as in: you can't spend more than you earn. Sometimes really good people, "flexible" people as you say, lose their jobs in layoffs. This post spoke to my industry and those who remain at the helm.

wgn3 said...

The Daily Show take on the NYT reminds me, in a strangely perverse way, of the scene in the classic film when Charles Foster Kane first walks into the newsroom of his new amusement.

The Managing Editor rings a bell as a signal for the entire staff to arise from their desks in a sort of bizarre Dickensian salute to the new owner. Kane then rips into the M.E. about the paper's lack of photos and multiple column headlines, major technical innovations of the day.

Cut to the scene of the befuddled M.E., now jobless, carrying his satchel out of the building.

Fast forward from 1939 and this scene is being replayed, albeit with different technology, in newsrooms across the country.

Some folks -- apparently including many at the NYT -- just haven't gotten the memo.

ALittleGuitar said...

the video made me LOL -- uneasily.