Emotional Intelligence / by Matthew Cook

Let’s talk about emotional intelligence (EI) for a few minutes.

Last month, The Atlantic published an article titled The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence, Huffington Post published one by the same title in October, and Daniel Goleman published a short opinion, An Antidote to the Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence on LinkedIn just several weeks ago.

Quick note, Daniel Goleman is a well-known thought leader when it comes to EI since the publication of his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

The Atlantic’s point is simple, “Emotional intelligence is important, but the unbridled enthusiasm has obscured a dark side”. The writer, Adam Grant, goes on to define the dark side as manipulating someone to act against their own best interests”. Although the works he cites dig deep into the mechanisms behind EI and manipulation, the article seems content to wave a red flag and draw attention to the fact that abuse of EI exists and is quantifiably provable. 

The Huffington Post article has an even more simple point, “[higher] emotional intelligence – which is typically thought to be a boon to relationships and prosocial behavior – could also increase the ability to manipulate others.”

It’s a little weird that the concept of EI having a dark side is being posited as so ground-breaking. I guess having measures to compare emotional intelligence levels and finally being able to identify and record a person’s ability to use it manipulatively is new.

My goal isn’t to talk about the merits or shortfalls of these articles or the facts they unearth and regurgitate. I’m citing them to demonstrate the timeliness of the topic and show that manipulation utilizing EI is identifiable and mainstream–let’s take a second to reflect on this with what’s going on around us in our own industry. I want to talk through something more central to what we do and what I see when interacting with potential clients as a freelance producer. 

The majority of start-up owners I’ve talked to try to employ EI to the ends explicitly described as the “dark side” by The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, and Goleman. Sometimes it sounds like “Building this is the easy part. It’s a sure thing” and sometimes it sounds like “Nobody gives more than 5% equity. We’re giving 8%, and when this thing sells we’ll all be glad we put in the time”. It takes many forms and sounds completely different depending on who you are, but I see it way more frequently than I ever thought I would. I know this is a harsh accusation, and I know it’s not really a nice thing to say about people, but I think we should realize and think about it.

Not all of these guys and gals are out to hose us and make a million bucks, but they seem to think it’s acceptable and the modus operandi for our world. Entrepreneurs are used to telling stories, they’re used to bootstrapping, and they’re used to evangelizing. 

I think it was Guy Kawasaki who said something like, “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard”. Entrepreneurs preach this when they talk to investors and are looking to prove their mettle, but we often hear the opposite from these same entrepreneurs when they’re trying to contract a team to build their idea: “Implementation is easy. Ideas are hard.”

I guess what I want to say is two-fold. First, watch out for the idea chaser. I’m not talking about John Nash a la A Beautiful Mind. I’m talking about patent trolls, charlatans, and people who at their core are oversold on themselves. Second, don’t be that entrepreneur. Our industry needs idea people and evangelists but we don’t need any more fluffy personalities, hollow projects that never pay (or launch), or men/women looking to build their fortune on the skulls of unassuming designers and developers.

I encourage you to be discerning and kindly oppose these people when they show up at your door or in your inbox. Be someone who shoots for fairness and builds an honest foundation for everyone you work with.