A professor in graduate school once told me that every piece of scholarly work she ever wrote was a result of anger.
Something pissed her off, and she wrote.
She reacted forcefully to conversations with colleagues or to their books and articles, and she wrote.
She observed behavior on the street, in her own life, that she viscerally reacted against, and she wrote.
This ending up serving her well, judging by the volume of work she produced and by her tenured position at one of the most prestigious universities and cut-throat departments in the country.
The thing is that you didn't "read anger" in her work, and she did not come off as an angry individual. But anger was, undoubtedly, a driver and a motivator of her output and her productivity.
My response at the time, when she told me that everything she wrote was a result of anger, was of the "Maybe we should all chill out..." variety. Did anger really need to be part of my daily working life? I wanted to do good, effective work; I wanted to do the kind of work she did, in fact, but couldn't it come from a different place?
It's a distinction that seems to boil down to motivation.
As entrepreneurs, what motivates us? I'm willing to bet that it is some combination of these driving factors:
- We're taught to look for gaps in products and services, and we're trained to identify solutions to problems that haven't yet been noticed or addressed. We crave the success of being the one to "fix" a nagging, thorny complication.
- We're earnestly inspired and internally motivated, for any number of reasons, to contribute to "big picture" issues like poverty, clean water or curing disease.
- We work with an eye on a financially profitable exit, and in fact build our offerings toward that end.
What if we explicitly added "I'm motivated in my work because I'm angry" to that list of factors? I say "explicitly" because being angry could be a component of each of the factors listed above: a poorly designed product could make us angry (especially if it's an everyday product we use repeatedly), losing a loved one to cancer could make us angry, and lacking enough money to sufficiently nourish our families could make us angry.
But there are advantages to explicitly recognizing when anger is a driving force of your work. Here are four, beginning with facing the bold truth of the emotion.
1. Anger isn't an immature emotional reaction.
In fact, it's a survival mechanism that is most likely grounded in a strong desire or passionate need that has risen to the surface. Tracing your anger back to its roots is a healthy, if perhaps uncomfortable, exercise that will either remind you of your original "why" or it will refocus your motivation.
2. Metabolize anger, and turn it into fuel.
Feeling angry? Good. Understand why? Even better. Now, channel that energy into a productive next step. Recalibrate a line of your mission statement, perhaps. Maybe adjust project goals in the near-term. Or reinvigorate your sales team with an enhanced offering. Whatever the appropriate response for your business, transform the anger into a concrete, net gain.
3. Reposition the anger.
It isn't about "transforming the anger into a net gain" in order to extract some sort of revenge, and it isn't about shying away from the anger or pretending it's not as serious as it is. It's about understanding anger differently than you have before, and repositioning it as a useful motivational lever moving forward.
4. Maximize adrenaline flow for productivity.
There are good reasons for the bad rap that anger attracts: it can make us act irrationally and out of character, for example, and it can have a negative effect on our own feelings. But those responses fester when anger is left unchanneled. Instead, recognize the adrenaline flow that rises alongside anger, and maximize that boost of energy to take productive action.
It worked for my professor in graduate school. It works for me and my business, particularly when a competitor steals an idea or tries to copycat a strategy: it not only keeps us on our toes, but it also keeps us innovating, which ultimately gives us an advantage. That is the best positive effect of anger that I can imagine.