Cannes Lions 2016: A masterclass on 'passion', by Matt Eastwood

The J. Walter Thompson's CCO delivered a talk on 24 June, on why passion trumps talent

Jun 24, 2016 12:51:00 PM | Article | Raahil Chopra

Matt Eastwood, worldwide chief creative officer of J. Walter Thompson, took stage at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2016 on 24 June to underline the importance of passion.
He cited several examples of people from around the world, who lived in different eras, and explained how passion made them successful. "I've done a lot of interviews and hiring. I don't look for intelligence, the recommendation, pedigree, or the suit the interviewee holds. I look for passion," said Eastwood.
He added, "Passion is what one wakes up with. You make sacrifices because of it. It (a passion) could be cars, kittens or whatever, but the point is that people who are more passionate about one thing can be passionate about others too. I can't teach passion. Whether it's climbing Mount Everest or it's writing joke after joke, it all comes as a result of passion. Passion gives you a sense of learning. It's a fire under you that wants to make you succeed."
He made his point with a clip of actor Will Smith from a television show, in which he explains how he doesn't like getting outworked by anyone – he would rather die than get outworked. 
Talent versus passion
Talent plays a role too. But passion gives a sense of desire and belief, contended Eastwood, with an example.
"(Pablo) Picasso was talented. But he was prolific too. He made 13,500 designs and 34,000 book illustrations. This was not down to only talent, but because he had the passion to do this. A passionate person tries. A talented person doesn't necessarily do that. They (talented) can also become complacent. Passionate people keep moving. Thomas Edison is best known for inventing the light bulb. When he set up, he didn't know he wanted to invent the light bulb. He was willing to put in the hard work. Edison had a lot of rivals, but the reason we know his name and not the rest is because he made 1,000 bulbs before the actual one. A mistake for him was an opportunity to create more," said Eastwood.
He cited examples of people within the J. Walter Thompson network and how their different passions have helped. From one having 1,000 safety cards of air planes to another who counts days between F1 races, he said that the reason why these passions are important is because it gives them something to look forward to in life. He said, "It's a reason for them to come to work and then go home. These passions give them energy. It changes the dynamics. I'm not into any of the passions that my team shares, but I'm glad they have them."
Passion keeps you going 
Eastwood recounted the experience of being fired early in his career at Ogilvy (Perth). After having won accolades like 'Commercial of the year', it came as a complete shock to him, he revealed. "I questioned my worth. But I eventually picked myself and continued (in the field). Later on I got to know that the Perth office of the agency was shutting down and my sacking was done to get me a severance package."
The creative head referred to the case of Sir Richard Branson, whose school teacher had famously told him that he'd either end up in jail or be a millionaire. "He hasn't gone to jail. By the time he left school he had already begun a magazine. Then by the age of 22 he had a music label. Addressing start-ups he said that one needs passion to run a business: 'Many won't make it, but those who are passionate will'. He didn't talk about business plans and stuff like that. He only spoke about passion, because that's the fuel. He hated finance, but passion made him roll out Virgin Money, a bank about customer service in 1995. He didn't run away from the sector because he didn't like finance. We all can't be Bransons, but we all should be working hard to understand our passions," he added.
Joanne (JK) Rowling's idea for The Harry Potter came about when her train from Manchester to London was delayed, noted Eastwood. But her mother passed away and she stopped writing. For some reason, while she stopped writing other things, she continued writing one book. 
"She had separated from her husband and was taking care of her daughter. She wrote this one piece of work while her daughter slept and put it together on several different pieces of paper. She finished three chapters and sent it to a publisher who rejected it. She sent it to a total of 12 who rejected it. It tested her belief in the book. She then sent it to an editor. He never read it, but his daughter did and she loved it and wanted more. The rest, as they say, is history," he said.
He surmised, "Decisions and fate may give up on you and ask you to do something else. This is when your best test comes in, and passion keeps you going.