The notion of Emotional Intelligence arose in 1964 but got really popularized in 1995. It was only in 1999 that it started to apply to business with the development of the EQ test. Ten years later, businesses really began to see the value and started embracing the concept more broadly which became table stakes for certain disciplines. 

What is Emotional intelligence? How is EQ applying to the business design discipline?

First, let’s look at what innovation, business design and digital transformation really mean. As these terms tend to be used interchangeably but they differ slightly. 


Innovation is the introduction of new products and services that add value to the organization.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is the foundational change in how an organization delivers value to its customers by continually challenging the status quo, experimenting, and getting comfortable with failure.

Business Design

Business design is a human-centered approach to innovation. It applies the principles and practices of design thinking to help organizations create new value and new forms of competitive advantage. 

The process of design thinking begins with empathy in that the designer puts themselves in the shoes of the user by defining the pain points they experience. 

Business design is the integration of customer empathy, social science, experience design, and business strategy (the business strategy involving a number of key elements) to create innovation in the form of new products/services, processes, or go-to-market strategy.

Business Strategy Key elements

Fig 1 – Business Strategy Key elements

As described in Culture at the Core – A playbook for digital transformation in a changing world, transformation begins with people; and anything that refers to people implies emotional intelligence. A lack of emotional intelligence in the process has always proven a point of failure. 

But what is emotional intelligence?

Also referred to as ‘’soft skills’’, emotional intelligence is very often wrapped within compassion or empathy. However, this is actually only one part of the concept. Emotional intelligence was first defined by Salovey and Mayer as the “form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”

Later, Daniel Goleman introduced the Emotional Intelligence Quadrant, presenting its full spectrum.

Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Quadrant

Fig 2 – Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Quadrant

The study done by Parke, Seo, & Sherf demonstrated how emotional intelligence – emotion regulation and emotion facilitation – shapes people’s creativity and drives innovation. This is why there’s a heavy focus on emotions when starting a business design process. Lots of activities aim at driving the participants to express what they think and feel; their fears and hope, with an empathy map highlighting the pain points of a solution. The ‘’people-first’’ approach is essential in business design because the goal is to define solutions that have a user impact, quick adoption, and an overall business value. How is emotional intelligence applied in business design?

Social AwarenessEmpathy maps: As mentioned, business design uses tools to express emotions felt by the users. The scope of emotions is very broad and named emotions help convey precisely the level of issue/satisfaction as well as the real customer’s expectations. Business designers look at experiences, and challenges from multiple perspectives, to understand what different players feel (eg.: user, leadership, day-to-day operations manager but also someone who tends to have a negative take on things, a person who is very optimistic).

Fig 3 – Map of Emotions

Self-Awareness – Test and Learn: Testing lies at the heart of innovation, the process of which is all about constantly learning and unlearning. Business designers need to be open-minded; they are never the ideal user of a solution (because of their professional biases). So they reach out, they listen to feedback, and they A/B test. Innovation requires them to stay humble because sometimes, things that might have seemed obvious might come back completely differently once introduced to users. Methodologies and frameworks are used but none are cookie cutters. Business designers need to constantly adjust to the external factors intrinsic to each situation. 

Self-Management – Mistakes, oversight, and challenges are part of the day-to-day: When embarking on a transformation, players need to be comfortable with failure, stepbacks, and bumps on the road. It is never 100% smooth. Expertise actually mitigates failure and makes the process smoother, because senior business designers have experienced a lot of situations that can be similar to the one a client is currently facing. However, there can always be an unanticipated edge case. They need to listen, watch for cues, keep focus, stay patient and be resilient. No matter where the solution lands, it will always be better than the existing alternatives.

Relationship Management – Collaboration: No transformation can be successful without collaboration. All departments must embark on the process and none should be left behind. The goal can only be reached if it is worked out together. The group should rely on analytical processes, check their personal interest (or department’s unique interests) at the door and come together to create novel out-of-the-box solutions. Plenty of emotions are part of the process. Some fear failure, while others apprehend disruption because they do not know what it means and how to handle it. Some are learning along the way; some need time and explanations before they can get on board. Skills such as being a good communicator, being empathetic to others, and handling conflict effectively are necessary for the success of the process. Let’s never forget, that a lot of the process resides in the capacity of bringing others along.


To go further:

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ – Daniel Goleman 

Myers-Briggs personality test –

Atlas of the Heart – Brené Brown –