That Thing You Do

On October 11, 2010, in John Sumser, The Go/The-Know, by John Sumser

That Thing You Do

I try and try to forget you girl,
But it’s just so hard to do,
Every time you do that thing you do

– the Oneders

When employers speak of finding passionate employees, they’re usually looking for people who will work for a discount. If you really love your work, you’ll do it for love and not money, or so the thinking goes. If you don’t think this is true, ask anyone who is on the passion bandwagon whether or not they pay extra for passion. They don’t. Ever.

Yesterday, we took a look at the difference between talent and desire. The crazy level of emphasis on talent is distorting sound business practice. There’s something big missing from the conversation. The desire to succeed always produces superior work where talent is simply a question of potential.

Passion and desire may be better left for the bedroom. Neither word really captures the essence of the special something that separates people who are driven to success from those who just want a job. This is the primary failing of quantitative matching systems and most assessment tools. Driven people want more money, not less. They crave accomplishment and can see their dreams.

Drive is hard to measure but easy to see. It’s that je ne sais quoi. It’s the juice. It’s That Thing You Do that makes you distinct from all of the others.

The music business, where talent is manufactured and sold every day, is a great place to look for insight into the relative value of talent, drive and luck. It’s the combination of the three that really makes a team, and it’s only with a team that organizations can take on really big things.

The opening reference is to Tom Hanks’ movie, That Thing You Do. (Hanks was both writer and director.) It’s the story of the rise and fall of a quartet who share some striking similarities with the Beatles. They gel with the last minute addition of a new drummer and flower under the guidance of their manager (played by Hanks).

All of the band members are pretty good guys who are willing to work hard and put up with some crap in pursuit of their dream. The movie chronicles the quirky little miracles that roll up into success. The tapestry of the story is a bunch of little details that flow together.

The story progresses around the perfection of the song, That Thing You Do. Here, they are trying it up tempo for the first time. Here’s the finished road version of That Thing You Do. There’s an enormous amount of work and attention to detail between the two versions.

As success crescendos, of the drive of its members. Some end up as carpenters while others become seasoned musicians. The difference has less to do with talent than timing and drive.

As performance management dominates our landscape, it’s worth wondering if an equitable share of the boss’ goals leaves room for “That Thing You Do”. Do we eliminate creativity by slicing and dicing objectives? Or do we hunt for ways to celebrate “That Thing You Do”?

Bonus link: Here’s the Nsynch cover.

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