One of the more popular phrases entrepreneurs search for on Google is "how to disrupt an industry." They've become so influenced by marketplace companies and unicorns like Airbnb and Lyft that they no longer want to insert themselves among the competition. They look to shake up the traditional way of doing things and change people's buying habits and preferences.

If you've ever searched for those terms yourself, you probably found a whole bunch of articles that talk about the importance of having passion. But the problem is, the meaning of that word is open to interpretation.

What Sets Passion Apart From Pleasure

The definition of passion is "an intense desire or enthusiasm for something" or "strong and barely controllable emotion." You may talk about your passion for reading, writing, or running your business, but does it really flow through your veins and motivate you to get out of bed every morning? Or is it something that you just enjoy doing?

People throw the word passion around too easily. Many a corporate job description is to blame for this. "Must be passionate about hitting targets" or "passionate about paying attention to detail." They've poured water on the flames of our real passions by asking us to take something we're good at, or even like doing, and call it a "passion." And there's a world of difference between enjoying something and being passionate about it.

What sets passion apart from pleasure? Following your passion isn't always pleasurable. Running a business isn't all fun and games. When your passion for detail gets hampered by a sky-high pile of invoices to pay, you need more than job satisfaction to get you through the daily grind. You need to be pretty firm about why you're doing what you're doing and have a long-term vision that drives you. That's your company's reason for existence. That's your passion.

Passion is what gets you to where you need to be. It's what wills you to overcome obstacles like limited funds, fierce competition, economic downturns, or negative customer feedback. If taking pleasure in what you do is your only motivator, pretty soon you'll hit a motivational slump. Passion is what frames the overall vision behind an entrepreneurial venture. And it is essential for long-term growth. It's also necessary for industry disruption.

Passion in Action

Amy Ching, senior data scientist at CarVi, a leading automotive technology company, knows all about the importance of passion and exactly what drives her team forward: "Zero accidents." Ching goes on to say: "We want to put CarVi in every car, so that all drivers are equipped with the best Advanced Driver Assistance System technology that will prevent accidents and save lives." Now that's a worthy passion.

Almost 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year. Ninety-four percent of these accidents are caused by human error. The creative team at CarVi shares a passion for saving lives, which has ignited a relentless focus on safety technology. Due to the CarVi team's strong understanding of why they do what they do, the company is primed to disrupt the automotive industry before self-driving cars really hit the scene.

CarVi and self-driving cars solve the same problem: vastly reducing human driving error. But only a micro-percentage of consumers will ever be able to afford a self-driving car. Currently, adding driverless technology to a car costs between $70,000 to $100,000. This is in addition to the price of the car itself.

Most Americans can't shell out thousands of extra dollars for cars with improved safety features. "While all drivers understand the importance of safety on the road, not everyone is able or willing to pay a high price for safety features," says Ching. "CarVi has created the most affordable safe driving technology." Instead of thousands of dollars, the CarVi device is set to sell at just $300. It will empower people to become better drivers, which is good for everyone on the road and will save lives.

The Takeaway

Having passion toward a worthy goal leads to thoughtfulness about the finer details. Call it passion, or call it purpose, it's impossible to disrupt an industry without a clear vision. A company needs to look deeper than enjoying what it does and tap into its very essence. Take LinkedIn, for example. This social media platform's passion is helping people make meaningful connections. It's not just an online résumé website. Travis Kalanick of Uber didn't set about to come up with a convenient transportation app. He created a way for people to earn extra cash, on their own time, challenging conceptions of the traditional 9 to 5 job.

Analyze major industry disrupters and you'll see a common thread. They know how to harness their passion and turn it into a daily motivator. True passion changes lives, creates thriving cultures, and can even revolutionize the face of business as we know it. So, if you're studying ways to disrupt an industry, perhaps you should pay less attention to the smaller details and begin by asking yourself why.

Published on: Apr 6, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.