Search Gets Passionate in Vegas

First published November 16, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I’m a huge fan of passion. Curb the urge to snigger. When I say passion, I refer to it in the ideological way, not the sensual one (although I’m pretty fond of that as well). I believe passion trumps everything else: intelligence, education, money, social connections. Look at times when people have really moved the world in a meaningful way, and you’ll always find passion.

3 Degrees of Passion

In the past week, passion has manifested itself to me in three very different ways.

First of all, I sat for two hours while former President Bill Clinton talked about his Foundation, his view of the world as an interdependent global village and the unsustainable inequities between North America and everywhere else that must be addressed. The presentation was smooth and friendly, but the passion was palpable. This was a man on a mission. Clinton’s got some burning issues on his agenda, and I have to believe he’s going to move the world and make them happen.

This morning, I was at Webmaster World’s PubCon in Las Vegas and Guy Kawasaki took the stage. Kawasaki has passion. In fact, it was the subject of one of his 10 takeaways: “Make Meaning. Do something that matters. Be passionate.”

Later in the day, I met with a product manager in charge of a new search platform. He was supposed to give me a feature run-through, and I was supposed to give user feedback. Try as we did to stick to that agenda, we kept getting sidetracked talking about how search is changing everything. We became more animated as we talked. Passion snuck in and kept hijacking the conversation. We ran about an hour over what we had scheduled.

Search: Passion to Spare

That’s what I love about search, especially where it sits today. It breeds passion. It demands passion. It grabs you by the throat and makes you realize that it could change everything. I suspect there was a time when Wired ex-editor John Battelle didn’t let search keep him up at night. But at some point, he looked at what was happening, and more importantly, what could happen and said, “Damn, [if you know John, I suspect this wasn’t the exact word he used], this is changing the world!” He became passionate about search. That’s probably why he’s also here, in Vegas with a bunch of Web-heads, as one of the keynotes.

When you walk down the halls of a show like this, people are talking about search. We’re ravenous about this topic. That’s why there are back-to-back events filling the calendar from January to December. Just this week, I wanted to be at the Search Insider Summit, but unfortunately it coincided with PubCon and I had a previous commitment.

Talk to the people at Google, or Yahoo. They know they’re the cusp of the future. They know the import of what they do. They’re fired with passion. Why didn’t I include Microsoft? To me, the passion for search isn’t seared into the corporate DNA at Microsoft to the same extent it is at its rivals. They’ve said the right things about search. I’ve met a lot of people at Microsoft who get search, and many of them are passionate. But at the other two major engines, the passion for search is pervasive. At Microsoft, it still feels more like a corporate initiative.

Late to the Party? Look for Passion

When you look at the people who make this industry tick, they are absolutely infatuated with search. It borders on obsession. It’s not to make a buck, because believe me, there are easier ways. We’ve been slogging it out in the trenches for years, going from show to show, spreading the gospel, educating clients and bit by bit, building best practices and pushing the industry forward. There are not a lot of rich search marketers, but there are bushels of passionate ones.

So, for those of you waking up to search, here’s a tip. If you’re an agency or a large organization that wants to build search capabilities, look for passion. Don’t just look for someone competent, look for someone who can become passionate about search. Because that’s what it will take. Here’s why.

Search is just beginning. The rules are constantly going to change. What you do today is not what you’re going to do tomorrow. This is not a 9-to-5 job. The only way you can keep up with the pace of change that’s inevitable is to live, eat and breathe search. You have to be constantly looking at the horizon to see what’s coming–not just because you have to, but because you can’t imagine doing anything else. As search continues to define itself, it will be the passionate people who do it. As I sit here in Vegas, that’s probably the safest bet in town.

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