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. 

Starting Your Own Business Without the Fanfare by Matthew Cook


I started this article on one of my recent trips to Charleston, SC. I’ve got several of these rambling personal blog posts stored up that I haven’t been publishing. I’ll start putting some of them up now and again. Keeping a good blend of casual thinking and professional thinking is my goal–so here we go.

Talking about starting your own company in tech is a hot topic right now. There’s a lot of excitement and jittery nerves around the start-up scene as we experience a bit of a tech boom here in The States. Lots of quoting Steve Jobs, and lots of dreaming big. It’s fun, it can be intoxicating, and (as is often stated) one in a million make it big. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to read about, and how can you not like Steve if you’re young and love tech? I want to talk about those of us who live in this start-up world as individuals but aren’t really part of it. 

For all intensive purposes, I’m a business owner. I’m an independent contractor working as an LLC that I run all of my income and liability through–waiting for my paperwork on that LLC. I provide a service to clients that they need, I pay myself, and I cover 100% of my own taxes. However, I don’t have employees, I don’t have investors, I don’t have a product, and I don’t have wild ambitions for scale. There are lots of people who work this way, and I think we’re an over-marginalized piece of the tech start-up scene. We sort of fit into the Independent Small Business Owner category, but we also fit into the Independent Contractor category as well as the broader Entrepreneur moniker. 

We have all of the financial burdens that come with being in the start-up world, but none of the fanfare; sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s terrible. Forget investors, forget products, forget incubators, and forget imagining your company as the next Apple or Facebook. We’re gloriously and terribly alone except for the clients or fellow industry lone wolves we call friends. I like to make my own category for what we are.

We are the wheels in a lego box. You never know what you’re going to build when you pull out the huge bin of pieces, but wheels are a safe bet. After all, unless it’s a fort, you’re going to need to go somewhere, right? I like thinking of people like us as the unused building blocks of the start-up world that everyone needs.

Who we are and what we do are the individual pieces to larger teams that can make amazing things and go to amazing places. For now, I’ve chosen to stay small and touch as many things as I possibly can. I know great men and women who have decided to become a cornerstone in a larger structure, and I know some who are intentionally and chronically that lone set of wheels. 

For me, I know I can’t stay alone long term. At some future point I’ll either take a stab at building my own thing, or I’ll go W-2 (again). I’m looking at a BLS.gov graph that shows the success rate of small businesses by year. As it declines from 100% to around 20% over a 17 year span, I’m sitting here wondering how long my “business” will survive. I know it’s an imperfect comparison, assuming I’m not actually an accurate sample for that model, but it’s definitely a driver to be a building block or a set of wheels rather than a cog in the machine.  

Where I’ve landed for now is that I know I want to do my own thing. That means a lot of working with SuperFriendly while finding my way with Arbitrary and the odd side project. There’s a ton of power in staying independent, but I feel an impending sense of eventual marginalization. I can’t stay here forever or I’ll never accomplish anything bigger than what I can do alone. Eventually I want to either start my own thing for real with scale, fear, and huge potential; or I want to officially hitch my wagon to a business/product I believe in and can push forward.

Oh, final note. I changed my hairstyle again and started running