A few years ago, David Maister, a well-known business advisor, lectured a group of pin-striped IBMers and their guests on the need for passion in business.

Passion, Maister told this group at a seminar in Toronto, was the differentiator for those businesses that succeed, or so I seem to remember after several years. The lesson seemed obvious but this group, most probably in their 30s and 40s, probably needed to hear the message.

Many experts talk about people finding their passion. But few talk about how passion works and those occasions where it might not work. Certainly, passion can be a differentiator if all things are equal, and among those things is a level of competence. People with passion and no competence are buffoons.

How does passion work? It's a question worth answering, since it helps us know what we can expect to get from those who have it.

Passion fuels inventiveness. It sustains effort when the going gets tough. It keeps people focused on goals. Above all, it can communicate to prospects and clients that they are important.

When customers interact with sales people who act bored, the customer is not going to be excited about buying something. Passion carries forth the sales message. It is the punctuation that communicates to the prospect that the product or service is important. People who act interested in what they do project the image that what they do is interesting, making it appealing to others, because they are showing interest in the other person. That is what solving customer needs is all about, and passion makes the message glisten.

Otherwise, business ends up like a recent television advertisement in which an accounting type drones on with something like, "The numbers for May were better than the numbers for April, but weren't as good as the numbers for March."

Of course, some might say, "That's accounting."

But it doesn't have to be.

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