Fast Company

Change Agent - Issue 53

Faith and passion, says Seth Godin, define the battle for the future: The same things that make the economy go make the country go.

On a beautiful late summer's day, I was walking with my family through Central Park. As we turned a corner, I heard the most amazing music. There in a clearing was a singer, a conga player, and a guitarist. In the crisp, cool air, the unamplified sound was stunning. The singer's quavering voice touched something in me, and we took a break from our walk so we could stop and listen.

Then, when the group took a break, I bought a CD (you can too at www.onehandedmolly.com) and took a minute to introduce myself to the band -- and to thank them for making the day so special.

A week later, I joined Sadie (the singer) and Greg (the drummer) for breakfast to brainstorm about marketing ideas. After hearing their story, I realized that I was listening to the story of just about every fast company. The two of them had been performing for four years -- Greg was proud that he hadn't had a "real" job for quite some time. An outsider might have seen four years of college gigs, acoustic performances in Central Park, and countless rejections as a long haul. Not one handed molly. They have extraordinary faith in their work.

Both Sadie and Greg have amazing confidence. They have no deadline, no expectation that they won't make it. They trust their talent and their persistence. And they have total faith that they will reach their audience.

Of course, the power of faith alone isn't enough to separate them from the countless other bands that struggle and disappear. One handed molly also has passion -- and it's their passion that allows them to overcome their fear of trying something new. It's their passion that led them to cut three CDs when they didn't have the money or the built-in audience to make the decision a rational one.

At breakfast I offered them one after another of my crazy marketing ideas, and they wanted to embrace every one of them. They instantly understood how a breakthrough idea could help them reach their goal.

Here's what I learned from one handed molly: Sadie and Greg are a metaphor for every company that says that it wants to be fast. First, the people at the company have to have faith. Faith that their idea is a good one. Faith that their mission is worthy. Faith that people will want what they have to sell, and faith that, in the end, the world will be a better place because they made a unique contribution.

We all know people who work in jobs where they lack faith. It's just a job. It's a paycheck. Just a way to pass the time and pay the bills. Without faith, these people will never take a risk. Why should they? What's the point?

But today, it takes more than faith -- it also takes passion. This was a lousy year for people who had faith in their companies. The stock market didn't reward faith; in fact, it severely punished it. And with every outpost of the popular media piling on, the naysayers have only gotten louder, decrying the faith that those in fast companies had. Some people have given up, taking jobs that they didn't believe in just to pay the bills. Others are lying low, working on what they still have faith in, waiting for faith to return to others, from their investors to their colleagues to their potential customers.

But there's an even larger issue of faith and passion these days. The September 11 attack on America wasn't an attack on our people and buildings. It was an attack on our ideas and our goals. Make no mistake: The attack on America was an attack on our faith.

Today, the same pundits who lost faith in the economy are quick to tell us that our way of life is gone forever. Cynics may wonder if there's anything left to believe in, much less to be passionate about.

If this is a battle about ideas, then we lose when we think like that. We lose when we give up, when we huddle around the fire and build bomb shelters in our basements. We lose when we let fear take over.

We lose when we start to question our open society and the can-do attitude that made this country great, that taps the greatness of our people. We lose when we let a police-state mentality take over our daily lives.

We win when we use these cowardly attacks as a spur to boost our productivity -- the highest in the world -- even higher. We win when we trust our next-door neighbor and the kid down the street, regardless of where they were born. We win every time we get on a jet, attend a conference, launch a new product, or start a new company. We win every time we create a new job or cure an old ailment.

The real threat we face as a nation is that we'll forget what we do: the communities that we build at work, the risks that we take, the thrills that we experience as we take those risks -- that's not just what we do, that's who we are. We have built something here that's unique and special. Our economy is as much about the way we make things as it is about the things we make.

If our faith in our system goes away, our passion disappears as well. If all we do is move goods safely from one point to another, we will have lost sight of the bigger picture. Our world is about taking risks. It's about inventing new products and better ways of working, and delivering the insights and improvements that contribute to a better life for everyone.

Here's something you can bank on: One handed molly isn't about to give up. They know the world is a happier, more thoughtful place when they're playing music. And they love to make it. They're willing to invest in their music, to take chances with their music, to run their own recording studio and their own marketing effort just so that they can reach their audience. That's what they have faith in -- and their faith seems pretty hard to shake.

Here's what I have faith in: Our country and the rest of the industrialized world are onto something. Allowing individuals to think, to dream, and to make their visions a reality is the way to reach our potential as humans. Overthrowing our fears and embracing an uncertain future is the most productive, most lucrative, most entertaining, and most worthwhile way we can spend our time.

Surviving isn't enough. It's not enough for us to hunker down and live from day to day, looking over our shoulders and fearing for our future. Today, more than ever, it's crystal clear what it means to be an American. What we stand for. What we demonstrate to the rest of the world.

The Statue of Liberty still stands, but, even more important, the goals, guts, and hard work of the American people remain untouched. I, for one, have decided to get back to work -- not just to a job, but to the work that I love, the kind of work that we all aspire to do. I just got off a flight from California, and it felt terrific to reclaim my freedom from fear. I'm going to invent things, start things, and teach.

As long as we believe in the dream that is America, we win. Faith will be rewarded.

Seth Godin (sgodin@fastcompany.com) is the author of Unleashing the Ideavirus (Hyperion, 2001) . Find out more about this book (and his others) on the Web (www.ideavirus.com) .

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