First Responders: How Passion Plays Out

First Responders is a series that highlights replies to blog posts that may be of particular interest to the in-house community because of their insightful thoughts, advice and ideas.

A response and follow up to the post “The Passion Play”.

Passion is difficult to display without being called emotional. To most of the people I build projects for work is just work. A design change is just job security.

I am currently working on completing 50 state versions of a presentation book. Each book has between eight and eleven chapters. Each chapter is variable by state. The format of the books had been researched, presented to end user focus groups, management focus groups and was tested in a smaller form with our sales force and customers. It was successful enough that a decision was made to apply the design system to all of our products. Thus, the new book. I am now 4+ months into the project and two months from a very tight inventory delivery date.

Two weeks ago a Sr. Executive VP of sales made the unilateral decision to change the format to a 3-ring binder. My team chose to fight for the design. The design research was presented including a cost benefit analysis to show that the new design was well reasoned. Everyone involved agrees the new design is more attractive and easier for both our sales team and customers to use.

The reply to my team was that we were too emotionally connected to the job. The decision had been made. “Don’t get caught up in the change. It is just work. You will still be able to meet the deadline, right?”

There are several issues here that warrant a response. A designer can express passion in a way that won’t be construed as overly emotional (though there’s nothing inherently wrong with being emotional during a conversation). What I’ve often see happen is that designers, in the heat of a passionate exchange, can get defensive, oppositional and worst of all, they often stop listening, at least to the person they’re speaking to, and only hear the hysterical voice in their own heads that overwhelms their “voice of reason”. The best tack is to continually focus on the positive aspects of the design or idea you’re “selling” without making your client or manager wrong. You can be passionate and controlled at the same time.

It’s not clear if the Sr. Executive VP of Sales was the only stakeholder in the project at the highest level. Either way, because of the importance of this project, if the piece you and your team designed is the most effective option and has the buy-in of others in your company, you should escalate the issue to either a peer of, or someone senior to the Sr. VP. (Smaller projects aren’t worth the effort or the risk of antagonizing upper management but this assignment appears to be critical to your company’s future success.) Your first obligation is to serve your company and protect its best interests. Supporting your Sr. VP of Sales is secondary to that obligation.

Finally, you must confront whoever responded that you and your team were too emotionally connected to the project. If you let that falsehood go unchallenged, people will continue to believe it. You should firmly but respectfully point out just why that statement is untrue by describing the protocol and process that was employed to arrive at your design solution and continually assert why your design would benefit the company more than the Sr. VP’s proposed option. Sometimes passion isn’t about getting all emotional but, rather, going out on a limb to challenge the status quo or poor plan despite the risks involved.

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