Simon Sinek on Why Greatness Starts and Ends With Passion

In Chapter 13 of 20 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek shares what performing artists have taught him about preparation, process, and passion. Sinek finds passion matters on the bookends. It starts things. It is the process, or preparation, where people differentiate, develop, and ascend as individuals and as work - or art - creators. This process is where individuals accept and embrace technical capacity and open themselves to failure and the willingness to learn from and iterate upon it. Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer who applies his curiosity around why people do what they do to teach leaders and companies how to inspire people. He is the author of "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". Sinek holds a BA degree in cultural anthropology from Brandeis University.


Erik Michielsen: What has your passion for the performing arts taught you about the power of preparation?

Simon Sinek: There is something magical about somebody, an artist, who is willing to put himself out there, to share with am audience, to share with the world, something that they have created. And there is the very high possibility of failure, that it won’t be good. And if any component doesn’t work it can affect the thing as a whole. Um, preparation is interesting. I’m a great believer in process, to a degree. 

Which is – you have to be good at what you’re doing, and you have to understand your own discipline and have a technical grounding, but that’s not where it ends. I think where passion matters is on the bookends. You know, people start things because they’re passionate, you know? “I was passionate about this so I decided to start my own business,” or, “I was passionate about this so I started to take classes.” Passion’s what gets things started. 

And then it’s that process, it’s that preparation that you become understanding of, where it becomes intellectualized, that thing that you like, and that’s where I think most people fall down. “Oh my goodness there’s a lot of work here,” you know? So that usually ends that “passion” pretty quickly, or they get stuck in there, where it becomes only learning and only thinking. And really, there’s a point at which you have to say, “okay, you know what? I know how to do this; I’m good at this. I have to trust that I’m good at this, I have to trust the training and now I’m gonna go back to that passion again.” 

And those are the few who are able to truly catapult themselves, or their work, to this new level where we say it’s great, not just good. Because they’ve allowed themselves to now accept the technical capacity and leave themselves open to the potential for making mistakes again. Children have passion and they’re beautiful to watch, and they make a total mess. And these few here, they kind of have a childish way about them, they kind of act like children in some way, where it’s a little bit reckless abandon but for the fact that they have training and grounding and preparation. And I think those – that’s a beautiful thing to pursue. It’s a hard thing to do, because now that you’re technically based and you have an understanding, are you willing to fail? Yes here, because you don’t know anything [taps table] and yes here if you can be great.