W. H. Auden — ‘Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.'
Mostly makes sense. A routine is a process. If the process is carried out by an intelligent man (or woman) the implication is that the routine is designed to generate control and efficiency. A person performing a process to generate efficiency, must be trying to accomplish something. No surprise then that the definition of ambition is: a strong desire to do or to achieve or accomplish something.
But what about the phrase suggesting an intelligent person should “discipline passion”? Is it meant to imply that routine will dull passion or drive passion out of the process? My interpretation of the phrase is that an intelligent person can learn to control passion and harness it for the purpose of generating inspiration, creativity and drive on an at will basis. This is something I've seen world class performers learn to do.
Perhaps just as important is the idea that the intelligent person has control over what they ‘want or ought to do during the day’. Defining the actions for success and then executing those actions daily is the way to greatness. Adhering to this discipline is much harder done than said. It requires will power.
As a person who looks for signs or hints about the makeup of a founder, this is an interesting quote to ponder. While it’s true that not all founders are going to be so strictly regimented, being process oriented is a good trait for leaders of early stage companies. And if ambition is what powers drive forward, then ambition as a characteristic of a founder is important as well.
What I take away is that talking with a founder about his or her routines could provide insight into their intangible qualities such as process orientation, ambition and will.