You might not have heard of AbInBev, but surely you’ve heard of Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona, Beck’s, Brahma and Quilmes (if you are from Argentina). AbInBev is the largest brewer in the world, enjoying 25% of global market share. It’s CEO is Carlos Brito, a sharp brazilian who was included last year in Barron’s 30 Best CEOs list.
Last week, Carlos Brito gave us a talk at Stanford Business School, on his “Dream, People, Culture” framework (here’s a video of a similar talk). While discussing how to generate the right context for a meritocratic culture, he remarked:
“We don’t want a fun environment. We want people to be passionate. Look at the olympic athletes: they are not having a great time, they are training like hell, they want to win, to perform, to be a part of a great team”
I loved the way he expressed it. Fun is extremely important to relax between sprints, to celebrate wins and to recharge batteries after a defeat. Nevertheless, we want to make sure that fun plays exactly this role and doesn’t outweigh passion as the main aspect of our culture. We want people to be motivated by desire to achieve, to win, to do something worthwhile, to get peer’s recognition. An entertainment room will reinforce it, but the right motivation must be preexistent.
A neurological approach
In an amazing course on Brain Based Insights, Baba Shiv helped us structuring the relationship between chemicals, states and risk aversion types. Challenging situations produce high levels of Dopamine, whereas relaxed situations (low adrenaline) produce high levels of Serotonin.
- Passion will trigger excitement, desire for achieving, fear of missing opportunities.
- Fun will trigger contentment, comfort with the status quo, fear of making mistakes.
Passion will cause tears, fun will cause laughs. Passion vs fun, Dopamine vs Serotonin. The “Lövheim cube of emotion” describes some of these relationships:
Is there a way to “manage” passion?
The type of passion we’re interested in is generated by challenges. Sometimes managers have to “translate” company’s objectives into challenging goals for people in their teams.
“The most important aspect of a leader is to inject the right pressure on the system. Not too much, not too little.”
In order to create effective accountability, we need to create “challenging but attainable” goals. Useful challenges are a function of a person’s skills. As skills evolve, challenges must evolve too. Maybe a good framework to visualize this can be found in the videogame world. Videogame designers deal with engagement, without which a game is worthless. Here’s “The Flow Zone” explained in Gabe Zimmerman’s book:
The key to engagement is to keep players in the “Flow Zone”, moving them to the upper-right corner as their skills improve. If the challenge is too hard, players experiment stress and shut the game off. If the challenge is too simple, boredom arises and engagement is broken.
I’ve seen many companies focusing too much in the “fun” part and not in the “passion” side. Even my own company focused on fun at some point. In hindsight, it was a mistake. Environment should be fun as a consequence of great people united by a strong culture. Managers must ensure that the driving emotion is passion. They also must ensure to apply the right pressure to keep talented people in the “Flow Zone”. Hopefully, as time goes by, with an upper-right trend.