Fire in the Belly: What It Takes to Embrace Innovation

By Sharon Harris Oct 16, 2018

I was never one to settle for the ordinary or the routine. I didn’t like being comfortable. Seeing things differently, reinventing brands, and being an organizational change agent were the building blocks of my career. If someone said it couldn’t be done, I was the first to sign up to do it. I was drawn to change like a moth to a flame. It was addictive.

One of my most beloved and cherished mentors, Azhar Rafee, once said to me, “you must have fire in the belly.” That fire is passion. Passion, as he described it, is the element that allows someone to move mountains, conquer fear, and create change. Passion is the fuel that keeps us going forward in the face of adversity.

Some see passion as uncontrollable emotion where logic and reason are abandoned. We sometimes think it is fickle or fleeting. Some think passion is a weakness. Many believe the workplace is no place for passion. I see things differently. Passion has sustained me; it has been my “fire in the belly” to continue moving forward no matter the obstacles. Passion led me to five truths that I apply to life and work.

Passion is the fuel that keeps us going forward in the face of adversity.

Passion illuminates a vision. While careful deliberation and data inform your thinking, passion defines the vision. When a vision is paired with passion it oozes from your pores and reinforces your choices. It raises the blood pressure, widens the eyes, and causes your voice to accelerate. Passion does not waffle; it is determined and clear. Vision without passion does not inspire people and cannot bring about true change.

Passion demonstrates consistency. As a leader, having a vision is critical but the consistent demonstration and practice of that vision is paramount. Passion necessitates consistency. Your unbridled emotion is authentic in its expression. Consistency during times of change empowers people. It alleviates fear and provides guidance.

Passion is energy. In the workplace, energy is everything. Energy creates forward motion. Energy can shift the trajectory of an idea, a project, or an entire company. In the competitive landscape, energy is the defining factor. In order to attract and retain the best talent you must cultivate positive energy. Passion powers energy.

Passion embraces innovation. Fear can be defined as “Future Events Already Ruined”—you don’t know what will happen but believe in the worst possible outcome. Passion drives out fear, allowing you to go beyond your normal boundaries to take risks. Passion is about possibility, and being open-hearted fosters innovation.

Passion is stamina. Disappointment, failure, criticism, and forever-changing priorities are eased when you are passionate. When my mentor shared the phrase, “fire in the belly,” it was about passion as stamina, and aligning those around you with a common vision.

At the time, I was struggling to reinvent a 140-year-old brand into the digital landscape with an audience that didn’t even see us as relevant, let alone cool. I had a vision for what we could be, and I was determined to make it happen. I lived it. I shared it freely with anyone who would listen. The team embraced my passion, and it informed our actions, providing fertile ground for us to build upon. I was relentless and unwavering, and passion saw that vision to come life with success beyond our dreams.

Passion drives out fear, allowing you to go beyond your normal boundaries to take risks.

As a leader on the forefront of technological change, passion is my calling card. I fundamentally believe that technology can empower people. When fear holds others back from embracing technology, my passion creates an entry point so they can start to see what technology can do for them. Passion is emotion and emotion is what makes us human. To separate the workplace from emotion is to ignore that we are humans. Yes, business requires logic and reasoning to be stable. But passion coupled with logic and reason is a powerful combination. Harnessing emotions to drive ideas, innovation, and change is what keeps a company thriving. We, as humans, can’t exist without emotion and a life with no passion never fully embraces what is possible, new, and life-affirming.

I consider myself a lover of life, my work, ideas, and change. Passion burns brightly in all that I do and aspire to do. I embrace my passion as a strength. The fire in my belly burns bright and eagerly awaits new adventures.

Sharon Harris

With 18+ years of traditional and digital media experience, Sharon has used her influence and know-how to brand and launch numerous campaigns and products. Every other year, she visits Africa to reconnect with Lasayen, an orphaned elephant she adopted. She admits he’s now too big to hug: “He pushes me around!”