The Designer's Notebook: Passion Versus Professionalism
October 25, 2011 Page 3 of 3
I worked for years on sports products. They were not, and still are not, my favorite genre. I took the job because it was a big improvement over my old job, for a good company, on a well-regarded team. I found a niche where I could put my talents to good use, and I significantly improved the quality of our products in my particular area of design, which was simulated play-by-play commentary.
Was I passionate about it? No. I was professional about it: I did a good job for the company. What's more, I came to appreciate the unique challenges of sports game design, and I was delighted that our fans thought our game was the best on the market.
I would much rather hire someone with professionalism than passion. Professionalism is dedication to doing a great job even if you're not the target audience.
Somebody who will turn in good work on any project I put them on is much more useful to me than someone who is really enthusiastic about one genre and moans when he's asked to work on anything else. I'll make an effort to move the former to something she likes when I can. The latter gets fired at the end of the project.
They're not mutually exclusive qualities, of course. One of the best examples of passion combined with professionalism was Vincent Van Gogh. There's a lot of shallow psychoanalyzing about Van Gogh -- "his paintings are so distinctive because he was mad," and so forth.
But Van Gogh was no naïve artist operating on raw talent and passion alone. If you read his letters, you discover that he was a well-educated scholar of art, much influenced by the ideas of others.
His passion kept him going when nobody would buy his works, but it was his professionalism -- his endless desire to learn more and do better, that exploited his talent to its fullest. Van Gogh's early works didn't amount to much. It was his growth as a serious, thoughtful, professional artist that turned him into what he became.
In fact, his bouts of madness had nothing to do with it; they disturbed his thinking and prevented him from painting. If anything, his work is all the more impressive because he was able to do it in spite of, not because of, his illness.
It's time for a moratorium on recruitment ads that demand passion. It sounds cool, but ultimately, it's meaningless except as an excuse for demanding long hours and offering poor benefits. By itself, it's not much use to development companies, either.
Passion is no guarantee of talent or even basic competence. Ability, pride, discipline, integrity, dedication, organization, communication, and social skills are much more useful to an employer than passion is. And they're more useful to you, too.
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