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Pet project or commercial venture

It is quite common to hear people saying that you should follow your passion when you're looking for a job. Many people even end up starting their own ventures doing what they are passionate about. This can be extremely rewarding if you do it. When more than fifty percent of the world's workforce are unhappy with their jobs, it is great if you can make a living out of what you love to do.

I used to be a staunch advocate of this idea. But today, I came across something that made me have second thoughts. There is this person who has taken from idea to execution, a way to improve healthcare in rural areas. He has been involved in all aspects of development of the product. The product does what he envisioned. But, the time has come to change its status from 'pet project' to 'commercial venture'. This is where the problems begin. Making it a successful commercial venture involves doing a lot of things outside of his comfort zone.

A lot of start-ups fail to make it to the market. Not because the idea isn't good enough. Not because the founder isn't passionate enough about the idea. But because the founder loses motivation when she realizes that the activity that she loves doing is only a small part of making her idea a commercial venture.

It has been proven in several studies that external rewards reduce intrinsic motivation. This is why most successful start-ups have founders who showed true grit to get through the rough patches because their motivation was not purely intrinsic.

In order to progress and develop, you ought to spur that side of your brain that craves for the external rewards available at the end of an activity, like promotions, higher pay, etc. At the same time, you ought to spur that side of the brain driven by intrinsic motivation. Striking the right balance between the two is key. This is why companies like Google and 3M are ranked among the top places to work. They allow employees to spend 15-20% of their work-time on pet projects while the rest of their time is dedicated to the company's commercial ventures.

When you're deciding what sort of a job you want to do, the only thing you need to ensure is this balance. The job ought to offer you enough opportunities to grow in terms of your position in the hierarchy, in terms of your pay, etc, while still allowing you enough time to focus on your pet projects that have no consequences on the bottom line of companies or even your own bottom line for that matter.

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