Business Strategy: Use Reason, But Serve Passions

“Reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

—Thomas Hume

Hume’s use of the word “passions” is currently thought to mean “desires.” As a guy who favors thinking over feeling in decision-making (i.e., if you’re a Myers Briggs fan, I have a strong preference for T versus F), I have to force myself to think in terms of desires (passions) in addition to reason to make good decisions, think better about business strategy, and better serve my clients.

It behooves all CEOs to use reason when crafting plans to execute strategy (Where do we play, and how do we win?), but they must consider desires when they try to identify how they profitably serve a specific market.

If this sounds professorial or “reasoned,” let’s add some passion. … Discover what makes the decision-makers in your chosen market happy, fulfilled and joyous and what feeds their soul and makes them look good, and you’ll sell a lot of product! Steve Jobs was the master of this.

Have you ever sat in an expensive automobile in a showroom and had a salesperson say something like, “Man, you look good in that car!” If not, perhaps you’ve tried on an expensive suit at a high-end clothing store and had the salesperson exclaim, “You look amazing in that suit!” It works because it appeals to our desires. Superman can stop a speeding bullet, but he cannot resist the passion of a compliment!

People in leadership roles who rely on reason alone are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. Leadership is about driving change and fostering alignment. Any great cause has been driven by passion more than alignment. Politicians know this — sometimes to our detriment. Business leaders should also know it. Whether focused externally on customers or internally on the team, marry passion and reason if you want to move the organization.

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