Before posting this article, I submitted it to a major tech outlet as an Op-Ed piece. This was their response:
My grandfather – an entrepreneur and brilliant CFO for companies like Packard Motor Company and Essex Wire – gave me my first advice when I was just 14 years old. To decide where to invest my time and money, “discover what products you use today,” he said, “and what you think will be popular amongst your friends.”
I spent a few days thinking about this. After all, most boys at my age weren’t considering trends and forecasts; usually it was girls and computer games like my personal favorite, Command and Conquer. When I finally figured out my answer, I proudly responded with “Apple.”
I then provided him with many details on what my friends thought of the company, the new excitement that bordered on cult-like obsession, their “Think Different” motto and mentality, and their successful demonization of the competition, Microsoft.
The trade I made on Apple in 1998 turned out to be my most successful trade ever – and it wasn’t based on charts, P/E ratios, or even insight from an analyst. What my grandfather taught me with that simple question was how to trust my gut, intuition, and to evaluate based on emotional intelligence, or EQ.
Now I’m grown up, and I live in San Francisco. Things are different here and now. Everything that I was taught on how to invest and observe business opportunities – that emphasis on emotional intelligence –, is at odds with a focus on IQ and an analytical frame of mind that drives business and investment decisions.
For those unfamiliar with the term, EQ, or emotional intelligence, refers to a person’s ability to understand, manage, and express their own feelings, as well as to engage and navigate those of others (source). EQ sounds a lot like something your therapist might tell you to “get in touch with,” right?
Daniel Goleman popularized this concept in his book. Titled Emotional Intelligence, the book uses psychology and neuroscience as a basis for the assertion that EQ can matter more than IQ. Unfortunately, beyond making the press circuit and gaining a small buzz among MBAs, the wisdom laid out by Goleman has gone largely ignored in the tech community.
Maybe this is because any concept or theory with the word “emotional” in it seems to carry a gender bias; while Inc. meant well in their feature on Emotional Intelligence last year, they ended up reinforcing the idea that women have inherently more EQ than male counterparts. It’s difficult to parse out how much of this bias is culturally and socially based, and how much depends on how you test people for EQ.
Nonetheless, given the massive skew toward men in executive positions in the Bay Area, it’s no wonder that EQ has continually fallen by the wayside as bubbles have grown and popped in various industries.
It’s hard to deny there’s a bias toward IQ here in San Francisco and the tech community. Here, we reward traditional intelligence because it is based on a bunch of fixed laws and rules, and adheres to rigids constructs and forms. The overriding emphasis on the IQ is embodied in the success of prototypical analyst personas. If you’re looking for a great example, think no further than the late, inimitable Steve Jobs and how he treated colleagues and employees. Steve Jobs built amazing products and a brand that tapped into consumers’ emotions, but fell short of understanding his team’s emotional needs.
In Pitch Anything, author Oren Klaff discusses this “analyst frame” of mind as it relates to pitching – for your business, for money, or for anything, really. Klaff states it clearly: “the analyst frame… only values hard data and ignores the value of relationships and ideas.” The analyst is like the kryptonite for pitches if you don’t know how to deflect them; in some ways, the analyst is also kryptonite for EQ.
A person with the analytical frame is the contrarian to the emotionally intelligent individual because, as Klaff says, they ignore “the value of relationships and ideas.” Why?
Emotions, relationships, people, feelings are constantly evolving, maturing, and becoming more conscious. These things are not easily – nor permanently – quantified, and thus present a major obstacle to integration for those with an analyst frame.
San Francisco and the tech scene embody the analytical frame persona that Klaff speaks about. Whether I am talking with startup founders, to a tech company in San Francisco I am selling to, or with many of the investors in this town, I frequently see the analyst persona come out in an effort to debunk whatever I am talking about – most especially when I am providing insight from the perspectives I gain through having high EQ.
Life, people, ideas, and things are not static and usually can’t be placed into some fixed and rigid frame - they are almost constantly moving and evolving. As the philosopher Alan Watts says so eloquently, “If this is what ‘making sense out of life’ means, we have set ourselves the impossible task of making fixity out of flux.”
“Fixity out of Flux.”
Let that sit. When was the last time you were successful at “making fixity out of flux” in anything? Like holding water in your cupped hands, it’s impossible. Yet many people in San Francisco do it – and make major business decisions based on it – every single day.
I recently sat down with Melissa Taunton, Partner at NEA, and discussed EQ and the role it plays in venture capital in Silicon Valley. As an immigrant from South Africa, she had to build her entire network/relationships from scratch in a new country. Thus, much of her persona, as a venture capital investor, is based around EQ and the relationships she built:
“Entrepreneurs want to work with people [investors] they like and that will really help them along the journey in a meaningful way. This is where Venture Capital has morphed into Venture Assistance (capital plus a lot of hands on involvement). When entrepreneurs trust you, they can be more vulnerable and share their challenges more freely. This enables investors to troubleshoot the core problems/issues faster and hopefully help avoid disasters by providing sound advice and solutions."
Patrick Sullivan, COO and Co-Founder of 2600Hz echoes the same sentiments within his team:
“By asking a simple question like “How are you doing?” or “Is everything ok?", you don’t just find out if there is an issue (or if you need to solve a problem) but you build the bond that the employee knows you actually care (on a business or personal level). We have found that this simple task not only cuts off potential issues before they grow but drastically reduces turnover in the company.”
Sticking to this model, 2600Hz has had only three key employees move on in their six years of business. Creating a space in his company where EQ is valued, Patrick has found anecdotal evidence of the same results TalentSmart has repeatedly found in their studies of EQ: nearly 90% of high performers in business display high EQ.
I also spoke with Bharat Vasan, COO of August, about EQ and the role it plays for his business and professional experiences. He stated:
“In any high-growth business, the hardest thing to manage is your own psychology. That applies to every person that joins the company. The people in the company is a major competitive advantage to being successful. It is thus more important than ever for leadership to have a high EQ because empathizing with the needs of your employees is how you retain your team.”
Earlier, I gave Steve Jobs as an example of how those with high IQ can be successful in Silicon Valley, but I want to make it clear: Steve was the exception, and the success of Apple is a due in part to their ability to create a brand that drove people to feel and experience something on an emotional level. In today’s competitive environment, companies led by people with high EQ may not make as big of a splash as Apple, but can have a long-lasting and profitable trajectory and will retain valuable team members too.
EQ has a role in creating sustainable companies, healthy work environments, and long lasting employee and customer retention. Silicon Valley needs to give it the space and value it deserves.