Can passion be taught? – part 2

Milind Sathe ( has posted a phenomenal response to my question. Well done Milind. He quotes examples from his personal life on how he became passionate about Ghazals and Golfing and comes up with the concept of a trigger. The idea being that one’s passion needs to be kindled by a trigger. Where I disagreed with Milind is his assertion that passion can’t be taught.

I was talking to my niece Archana Mahadevan about this and she is of the opinion that it couldn’t be taught as well. She is smart and I respect her (she is joining Google and I’m proud of her). She recounted how she became passionate about advertising. Archana Raghuram is also of the view that it couldn’t be taught. But since I wouldn’t accept it, she has sort of agreed but not entirely I think.

Sujatha Manivasagam also seems to think that it couldn’t be taught. That set me thinking and I think it could be an issue of semantics. Would it help you all if I asked “can passion be learnt” instead of taught? In my mind, if you have learnt something you have certainly been taught. Maybe not in the strictest sense of having a real teacher and going to a class but you have been taught all the same. If you look at Milind’s examples or Archana’s aunt’s story it is clear that you can learn passion for a new subject and you most often learn to be passionate. Except possibly for child prodigies no one really is born with a passion for a topic.

We all learn it due to a trigger to borrow Milind’s idea. Now to answer Milind’s questions:
1. Can you be passionate about something you are not good at?

I am very passionate about public speaking, blogging/writing but I can’t say I’m good at these to the extent I’d like to be.

2. Can you be good at something but not be passionate about it?

I used to be good at math in college but I wasn’t passionate about it. I was passionate about physics. Up next, myself and Archana Raghuram explored the connection between ambition and passion.

Do you have to have ambition to be passionate? What is the connection? What do you all think?


  1. Anonymous said May 2, 2007, 1:51 pm:

    I do totally agree with Archana about the inner passion to perfection is the driving force to excel in any field\domain.

    Although i think Passion can’t be taught, passion could be mentored or groomed. It all starts with identifying the talents\passions and providing the right choices to choose from and proceed in the right direction.

    When kids are small they are provided with choices of different sports, music,dance etc. but as they grow they choose whichever they really are interested in or works best for them and excel in it. It is the parent’s job to help the child figure out what the child’s interest area and guide them through it. Likewise the company could only provide choices and opportunities, it is the employee who needs to get the best out of it.

    The connection between ambition and passion. A person’s quest to reach the ambition always triggers the inner passion to achieve his\her ambition.


  2. Anonymous said May 3, 2007, 1:04 am:

    Thanks Sujatha. One more reason why I disagree with “passion can’t be taught” is because it seems to put a limit on human endevor. Or in other words, if we buy into this argument, we are agreeing that some people are not passionate and they never will be. That is what limits human endevor.

    As i said before if we say it can’t be taught, how did we learn to be passionate ourselves?

    I do agree with the company providing choices though. Unfortunately, companies do provide choices. But the problem is that a person who is passionate about something

    other than areas important for the company’s business.

  3. Anonymous said May 3, 2007, 1:07 am:

    Sorry. i hit submit by mistake.

    The point is, companies do offer choices. But the problem is, people either don’t know how these choices could impact them or they have interests outside the company’s business.

  4. Anonymous said May 3, 2007, 8:12 am:

    It is always the individuals choices, as in Archana’s and Milind’s example if they choose to excel, they will work towards it no matter what the obstacles are in front of them. If a person is organized at work, he will be organized at home or elsewhere for that matter, we can’t change the individual’s personality.

    There are 3 categories of people in the world.

    One who would want to excel in everything, so he\she would be looking for opprtunities and alternatives to grow up.

    Second are those who are ready for changes but needs some mentoring about the opportunities out there.

    Third are those who doesn’t care what the world holds for them, they just live to survive and will not be interested in any thing around the world.

    Category 1 people would excel with little or no mentoring while category 2 needs to be in the right hands to understand and realise their strength but category 3 we can’t help them until they wake up and realise the world is ahead of them.

    For people who have interest outside the company’s business, why did they choose this field in the first place. Either they have to swtich or if the choice is irreversable, try to work with the choice they made already without complaining.


  5. Anonymous said May 3, 2007, 8:25 pm:


    I like your thought process regarding “learnt” vs. “taught”. I think it is more than an issue of semantics, and here is why – to learn how to be passionate, the onus is on the person who wants to excel – the receiver, and not on the person who wants to drive passion into someone else – the sender.

    To teach how to be passionate, you are placing the burden on the sender more than the receiver. Make sense? It does atleast to me ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. Anonymous said May 3, 2007, 11:35 pm:

    This is what I think. “Zeal” is a synonym for “Passion”. Zeal is defined as “strong, enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal and tireless diligence in its furtherance”.

    In my experience, most people don’t have a goal in life. When you don’t know where you are going, it is difficult to be passionate about it.

    Plus, except prodigies, many of us may not have strong areas of excellence. Most of us have general, diffuse skills in a few/most areas. It is easier to be passionate about a strong preference, expressed in your brain – either thru nature or nurture.

    I think passion can be taught. If we were to show people the big picture, tell them how their job benefits the big picture & give meaningful feedback – people will be able to target their energies towards their job. And become passionate about it, as they see positive results. The brain’s reward mechanism will take care of the rest.

    Because, as I said, most of us have generic abilities. And there is no one way of doing most jobs. People can come up with their own rendition.

    – Priya

  7. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 1:04 am:

    Priya – I agree with you completely on the “big picture”. Thats what I have been telling Sukumar, too. One way to teach passion is to make people understand the value of their work. Showing how their work impacts the whole is the best way of doing it.

    Even if the work itself does not give you great pleasure, if you understand it’s value then you can be passionate about it.

  8. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 1:06 am:


    Interesting and insightful categorization of people. I am beginning to agree that not all people are going to be amenable to becoming passionate (your category 3). When i asked around, many people think that category 1/2 amount close to 90%. In my view, that is a big enough number. Even if we can make 50% of category 1/2 passionate about the company’s business we will have a world-changing company on our hands.

  9. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 1:19 am:

    Thanks Ganesh. I think you have brought out a subtle distinction between “learnt” and “taught” and I agree it is not just semantics. Upon further thought, i think learning/teaching passion seems to be fall in the twilight zone between “learnt” and “taught”. Because, it appears from everyone’s inputs that you need a trigger for becoming passionate (Milind’s concept) and the trigger seems to be external in most cases. Archana and Priya say below that one has to be taught the overall goal/vision of the company for one to become passionate – certainly an external trigger.

    From what Sujatha has said above, it also seems that some people may never respond to the external trigger (category 3 people per her). This points to the fact that you need an internal receptor for the external trigger.

    In sum, i think it is a combination of both inner receptivity + an external trigger.

  10. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 1:23 am:

    Priya, great point. Yes, Archana you did tell me this about telling people the overall vision/big picture as well as how what everyone is doing fits into the big picture.

    Marrying this to Milind’s idea, it appears that this is the biggest external trigger we can supply from an organizational standpoint to get people to become passionate. At the same time, as Sujatha says, category 3 people may never respond and that may be okay because by many estimates category 3 seems small enough for us to safely ignore.

    Great discussion by the way. Hope by now all of you are now thinking, yes passion can be learnt+taught? I used a combo because per Ganesh’s point above and my rejoinder, we need both learning and teaching.

  11. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 5:47 am:

    Yes, Sukumar. Now I feel it can be learnt (sticking to Ganesh’s definition). We said passion is like drugs, it is addictive. Is it also infectious? The best way to learn passion is to be amidst people who are passionate?

  12. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 5:50 am:

    Regarding your question on link between ambition and passion. Perhaps it is necessary to have a goal to be passionate. Is goal same as ambition?

  13. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 6:06 am:

    Maybe the first step to learn to be passionate is to learn to enjoy the work. Enjoying something leads to you being passionate about it and achieving / attaining great heights.
    I am passionate about creating / about innovation. I think its more that I’ve enjoyed working on new things. I probably wasnt passionate the first time i created something (composed music or say wrote a program). But I enjoyed doing it then. So I grew passionate about it over time.
    So, how do you make someone who is working in a software development team passionate about what he does? I think its wrong for you to think he will enjoy work if he can be taught to be passionate about it. He will be passionate about it if he is made to enjoy the work he does is the right way :). At least, thats my opinion.

  14. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 6:27 am:

    Thanks Archana. Yes, i think it is infectious/inspiring to be amidst passionate people. I guess it goes without saying that if you want someone to be passionate about something you need to be passionate about it first. I guess we missed that one in this discussion. Thanks for bringing it out.

  15. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 6:32 am:

    Yes Archana. Implicit in the point you and Priya made (that we need to explain the vision/big picture to people) is the aspect of a goal or ambition. If you recall JFK’s Vision of the man on the moon by the end of the decade, it fired up legions of engineers in the USA with extraordinary passion to fulfill that goal or ambition. I think there is a strong connection between ambition/goal and passion. Just to be sure, ambition need not be related to an achievement, it may simply be that you want to do the best work possible within your capabilities/means. But that “doing the best you can” is certainly an ambition that drives people forward.

  16. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 6:45 am:


    Thanks for stopping by. I guess this is another obvious one that has escaped the discussion. Passion has been equated to drugs by Archana. Enjoying and deriving happiness and positive energy is implicit in the definition of passion. But i guess it helps to talk about enjoyment directly because in a long discussion sometimes basic things get missed out. Thanks for pointing out.

  17. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 8:47 am:

    As a blogharbor blogger, every now and then I look at the main page and see if anything new strikes my fancy. Needless to say I foound your post quite intriguing, and reminiscent of the types of conversation Rajesh Setty looks to generate on his blogharbor blog.

    As far as passion goes, I believe the concept of a trigger makes sense. There are plenty of activities, hobbies, careers, and fields of interest that many of us have never been exposed to. We may all have passions that are unbeknownst to us just because the trigger has not presented itself. There are people living in cities that have no idea that gardening may be something they’ll really love because they’ve never actually done it. Perhaps they’ll never walked through a garden. But one day they may find themselves living outside of the city, and plant something in the ground that their child purchased at the school Mother’s Day plant sale, and think to themselves, “I rather liked that. How pretty it would be to add a few more.” Something like this could end up starting a business as a landscaper or running a nursery or flower shop. Or at the very least turning this new passion into a beautiful yard, and something that can be shared with family members during their free time.

    To stick with the gardening context, passion starts out as a seed. It may grow very quickly or start out slower and bloom into something beautiful. I’m not sure passion can be taught Passion has to strike oneself on an individual level. You can tell someone and expose someone as often as you like to what you’d like them to develop a passion for, they may even excel at it. But if there’s no spark within them that clicks on a personal level, there will not truly be passion.

    I believe people can be taught to explore and find passions. Some people may not really have anything they’re passionate about. But they can be encouraged to explore things they are interested in a little deeper. They could take a course, join a club, seek out forums and groups online. Exposure to new things may be a key and further developing current interests may move one’s passion out of the incubator and to full realization.

    It sounds like there’s a concern about inspiring passion in employees and team members. Not an easy task to achieve. Everybody that’s been hired was passionate during the interview process. Some are good at cloaking they’re passion for a paycheck with passion for your company or job posting.

    But if the project leader is truly passionate about the task at hand, I think passion can also be viral. Passionate people get people wrapped up in their passion at least for the time being. In the newly infected (and I mean that in the most positive sense of infected that you can possibly imagine), catching that virus may be enough to achieve and implement the task at hand. If management treats these people well and provides them with what they need during this time, they will not be deterred from their task. True passion may or may not develop, but this viral passion may be really what is sought. The key is to first identify those passionate people that can inspire and see if they can plant those seeds and inspire others, and if that’s the closest you can get to teaching passion, it’s a pretty good start.

    This post fed into my passion for writing and blogging, so sorry for the length. But thank you for the spark. Sometimes you need a jumpstart when you have writer’s block.

    As I just said to my son who wanted to pry me away from the computer, “If I don’t write anything, I’ll start writing about nothing.”

    So thank you also for unleashing my inner Yogi Berra this morning.

  18. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 10:28 am:


    Thanks for stopping by. Rajesh Setty may not be happy with the comparison, i am certainly honored by the comparison.

    I really liked the way you explained how lack of exposure to a variety of experiences may prevent the triggers for passion from occurring in one’s life.

    I am most impressed by your description of the viral passion or in other words transient passion. I think for the first time, you have brought teaching your team mates to be passionate, within the realm of possibility, with this concept of a viral passion. I am sure the passionate debaters on this thread are going to agree with it.

    I am glad you contributed to this thread. You have definitely added some new insight into the debate. I am sure Yogi Berra will be proud of you ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 11:26 am:

    Lack of exposure is certainly a very valid point. I have a slightly different take on this. I think it is more of a lack of interest. Many people loose their desire to know and learn after one point. It is because knowledge is always thought of as a means to an end (getting a good job, getting promoted), when it no longer serves that purpose they are not interested. “To be interested is a very important criteria to discover your passion”

    In this day and age, most people do not suffer from a lack of exposure, I think.

    – Archana

  20. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 11:54 am:

    Good point Archana. I guess you are saying one should remain curious about the world in general to not lose interest in learning.

    I think Larzini’s point is important. Passion is experiential. You have to do the activity. Just reading about gardening may not give you the trigger for passion. Although once you’ve experienced the activity, further exposure may reinforce the experience and possibly enhance the trigger’s effect.

    – Sukumar

  21. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 12:23 pm:

    You are right, Sukumar. I think my example was not correct. What I meant was, one should be interested in experiencing new things.

    Somewhere I read about a blind lady who regained her eye sight at the age of 40 and some one asked her if she regretted being blind during her youth.

    She describes how she saw the water sprinkler for the first time in the garden and was so fascinated by its beauty and her friend hardly noticed it. She says ” Now, at the age of 40, I am able to look at the world with the ever wondering eyes of a child”

    Contrast it with this conversation

    “Let us do gardening. I’d rather watch sun TV” ๐Ÿ™‚

    – Archana

  22. Anonymous said May 4, 2007, 12:37 pm:

    Thanks Archana. Nice example. A childlike curiosity is definitely something to cultivate to experience new things. – Sukumar

  23. Anonymous said June 9, 2007, 1:00 am:

    Interesting thread. My personal take…

    Passion, like love or courage, is not something to be taught – it is something to be harnessed.

  24. Anonymous said June 9, 2007, 7:28 am:


    Thanks for stopping by. Passion is definitely to be harnessed, I agree. But the discussion above shows that we can also get people to imbibe passion. If we can do that methodically, teams can accomplish greater success.