The Open Organization book club: Passion and purpose change the way we work

Register or Login to like
Open Organization book spines

The Open Organization book club is in full swing. During preparations a few weeks ago, I was asked (as an ambassador) to pick two of my favorite chapters from the book. During the weeks to come, I would lead discussion on one of them. Choosing wasn't difficult, as topics like meritocracy and passion resonate with my many years of involvement in open source. Passion it was!

Passion and purpose are changing the way we work. Are you, as a manager, allowing emotion in the workplace? How do you lead and control passionate teams? How do you recognize and reinforce passion? (Here's a hint: With a simple "thank you," and by hiring the right people.) We'll cover these topics—and more—this week.

Discussion (Chapter 2: Igniting passion)

In the book club this week, we'll be discussing "Chapter 2: Igniting Passion."

"What sets open organizations apart, and what gives them a true competitive advantage, is that they also have embraced the idea that they need to activate the emotional passions and desires among their workers to actually reach that ultimate destination as defined by their purpose. Today's workers want their work to mean something; they want to be part of something that makes a difference. If having a purpose gets people to do the right things, then passion motivates them to extraordinary performance—to go that extra mile—as they try to fulfill their goal." (p. 31)


I could write about so much. I have a passion for the open source way, and a 10-year journey of involvement in open source projects has taught me this. In recent years, passion made me look beyond open source software and projects. I started thinking about organizations—and leadership. I wondered how the open source way would add value to organizations, and how today's leaders could incorporate it into their management practices.

My involvement in open source has shown me that a group of people with a common goal and passion can achieve something greater than they could imagine by themselves. It's this purpose (and passion) Jim Whitehurst writes about in chapter 2 of The Open Organization. The recipe for an open organization begins with purpose and passion.

A few hurdles stand in the way of getting there. The first one: allowing those "scary" emotions in the workspace. Why? Without emotions, there is no passion, no motivation, no inspiration. Leaders will have to think and lead differently. They have to get personal, say "thank you," and tap into their associates' passions. These same leaders will have to learn how to recognize and reinforce those passions—and, at times, control them in order to keep a "passionate organization constructively focused."

Red Hat has been fortunate. It has a head start in becoming an open organization (because of its roots in open source). Thinking about this concept of open organization and reflecting on companies that lead through conventional management theories raises a few questions for me:

  • How could such companies turn old habits around and start applying this model to their organizations?

  • It all clearly starts with people, purpose, and passion. How does one ignite this passion? By hiring passionate people?

  • What emotions are frowned upon in your work place? Which ones would you like to see become part of your culture?

  • What ignites your passion? Can you name an example, a situation you’ve been in, where passion and motivation got you to go that extra mile?

A message from Jim


Follow the conversation on Twitter #theopenorg

Former and Open Organization moderator/ambassador.


The excerpt you chose to highlight is one of my favorites from the book. The questions you pose are good - and tough to answer. Emotions in the workplace are especially tricky for women in particular, because we're often told that we need to temper our emotions at work if we want to get ahead.

Years ago, at a different company, I had a much older male colleague who on several occasions in meetings asked me "why are you getting so upset" when I would raise my voice and speak quickly on certain topics. Each time it threw me off because I was never upset, I was passionate, and I was conveying it by getting visibly excited. Fortunately, I had enough sense to say just that "I'm not upset, I'm just passionate about this."

I bring this up because just as you suggest, for people who work under more conventional managers, it can be tricky to introduce appropriate emotions and passion in a place where it's not part of the culture. And an added layer is that women have to navigate a work world where they can be judged negatively for expressing emotions. Would my male manager have asked a male colleague who behaved in the same way as I did if he were upset - or would he have assumed he was just being passionate? I don't know. But it sure does go to show that not all work environments are ready for employees to outwardly express emotions and passion.

Love the questions you've raised. I look forward to seeing how others will answer them. Thanks, Robin!!

Hi Ginny!

Thanks for your reply. It is my favorite excerpt as well. I can totally understand where some work environments are just not ready yet, for this aspect of running an open organization. As you know I work for a local government. This too has a totally different culture, kind of an unspoken etiquette, where emotions don't seem to have a place either.

That said, you bring an interesting point forward on emotions. Thinking about it, an open organization might ask for more, such as awareness on gender diversity in the workplace.

I'm looking forward to the Twitter chat on Thursday, hopefully someone raises something similar to discuss.

In reply to by Ginny Hamilton

What ignites your passion?

I've been thinking about this a lot. And as an engineer turned project manager who discovered community management, I get really excited about opportunities to bring people together to talks about, discuss, and work on what they are passionate about.

The #OpenOrgChat events we're organizing are a great example. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to prep for that. And in the moment, last week during the live event, I got this really intense feeling of joy and happiness. When we wrapped things up, I had a huge smile on my face. We're learning from the first one and adopting for the next. I love that part too. Constant improvement.

I'd love to hear what other folks are passionate about.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.