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How much does emotion influence our response to uncertainty? Does emotional intelligence at home dictate professional success? Investment banker, venture capital specialist, and GLOBIS professor Dr. Paris de l’Etraz shares his findings on the role of emotion in innovation.

What is emotion-driven innovation? Why is it important for business professionals today?

Emotion-driven innovation is about delivering unique and engaging experiences to customers. Customers today statistically prefer the product experience over the actual product. It’s not enough anymore for business professionals to simply rely on quality. People don’t care about what you say or do; they care about how you make them feel.

How can emotion-driven innovation help overcome the so-called “innovation dilemma”—the challenge to keep up constant innovation?

Let’s look at Apple to answer that question. Apple engages with customers on an emotional level and at a product level. I have a relationship with my iPhone. Of course, I expect Apple to deliver me a good product, but I don’t really care if it is technically the best. The point is that it doesn’t have to be because there’s that emotional tradeoff. Emotion-driven innovation is difficult for companies that are used to focusing on just delivering superior products. The challenge overtaking the market now is not necessarily to make a better product, but to achieve better engagement with your customers.

You’ve talked about how being comfortable with uncertainty in your professional life correlates to a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ) and entrepreneurial mindset. Can entrepreneurs train themselves for higher professional EQ?

Yes, our agile in uncertainty theory states that we can separate uncertainty in our personal life from our professional life. If you look at the chart, you’ll see two scales: P for personal life and W for work life. We can be a P1 in our personal life—hating uncertainty, being a bit introverted, etc.—but a W4 in our professional life and embrace uncertainty.

Copyright 2018, de l’Etraz, Sidhu & Alonso

Our research shows that when an individual increases his or her level of comfort with uncertainty in their professional life, their EQ increases, as well. We have also seen that you can teach people to have greater comfort with uncertainty in their professional lives. Their placement on the P scale does not directly correlate to their ability to grow on the W. In fact, we surveyed over 5,000 people and found that 80% of those who are comfortable with uncertainty in their professional lives—innovators, entrepreneurs, etc.—see opportunity in uncertainty, though they may be P1 or P2 in their personal lives. This makes sense because life is a balance for many people.

Look at Steve Jobs. He was a P1, W4: hated uncertainty in his personal life, but loved it professionally. Zero EQ at home, lots of EQ at work. Entrepreneurs see opportunity in uncertainty, and this usually translates into higher than usual EQ. After all, few things are as uncertain as human emotions.

So we can teach EQ and make people comfortable with uncertainty?

Yes, in fact, I just finished teaching this at GLOBIS, and the overwhelming majority of students said they increased their EQ and ability to innovate after the course. Most of them were surprised at how innovative their own final projects were.

What is the next breakthrough in emotion-driven innovation?

The next big thing will be using data on your customers to predict what they want before even they know it. This is where Amazon is going, and it will enable companies to create even better user experiences.

Do you have any final advice for future MBA students?

My final advice would simply be not to use your personality as an excuse to not develop yourself professionally. Anyone can do it!