Jon Kolko: Why Entrepreneurial Leadership Starts With Passion

In Chapter 5 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, design educator Jon Kolko answers "What Does It Mean to Be a Leader in What You Do?"  Kolko looks at what he has learned about developing as a leader through the lens of his students.  For him, he sees drive, passion, resiliency and curiosity form the foundation that help select entrepreneurs thrive professionally and lead in their respective fields.  Jon Kolko the founder and director of the Austin Center for Design.  He has authored multiple books on design, including "Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving."  Previously he has held senior roles at venture accelerator Thinktiv and frog design and was a professor of Interactive and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).  Kolko earned his Masters in Human Computer Interaction (MHI) and BFA in Design from Carnegie Mellon University.


Erik Michielsen: What does it mean to be a leader in what you do?

Jon Kolko: I think that there are a lot of things around confidence that play into leadership. I think there’s qualities of charisma but I don’t know. I feel like those are ancillary. I feel like there's something else at the core and it might actually have to do with drive and passion. I have a hard time looking at myself through that lens. 

So maybe we could look in some of my students through that lens and the students that are most successful in starting companies, meaning in becoming leaders, seem to have an unending passion for whatever it is they're doing. And so, when you do anything in design or business, it's a constant struggle. When you start your own company, which you know it's a huge constant struggle and it almost feels from one perspective like anything that can go wrong will go wrong over and over and over, and it takes a certain unending passion to get through that because it's very easy and it's almost like the logical thing to do is to give up and at some point to just throw in the towel and say it's easier to go to work for somebody else or do something else. But I've just seen in the students that have graduated that have formed these companies and then going on to be successful, each time something sort of difficult or complicated comes at them or a reason why they should give up, the ones that are truly passionate about it don’t and use it to somehow gain leverage on a situation to turn it into something positive. 

That probably begs the question of what is passion and I'm not sure I have like a ready flip answer for it, but it does seem like just a massive curiosity and a need to know things, and that passion in the context of a business is contained within the business. But generally it's just a thirst to know how the world works right? And how people are and why things are the way they are.