Dilbert Meets Drucker

We recently explored a seeming absence of passion in the American workplace. But maybe dreariness is a good thing.

Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” took to The Wall Street Journal over the weekend to make the case for the grind.

Adams recounted something he learned from his days as a commercial loan officer at a bank. “My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over 30 years, said that the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet,” Adams wrote. “Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.”

Then again, Adams added, once you’re successful at your business, you start to like it more. “For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion,” Adams wrote. “In hindsight, it looks as if the projects that I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”

Source: Jan Slangen

When Peter Drucker used the word “passion,” it was generally in the context of nonprofit work. As he wrote in Managing for the Future, nonprofits “have to be imbued with passion.”

Even outside the social sector, however, Drucker felt that an absence of enjoyment in work was bad for results. “Those who perform love what they’re doing,” Drucker declared.

To be sure, he noted, it didn’t mean everything was fun. “Everybody has to do a lot of the routine.” But, if you find the work rewarding, you can also enjoy the routine.

“And that,” said Drucker, “is the difference, I believe, not between mediocrity and performing, but between what you call a ‘learning organization’—one where the whole organization grows and then the process changes—and an organization that maybe does very well but nobody misses it after five o’clock.”

So perhaps Adams’ loan officer boss was right to look for someone who was a “grinder”—but wrong to lend money to someone who didn’t enjoy his work.

What do you think is the relationship between passion and success?