The Business of Emotions

For most of my salaried life, I worked with engineers.  They were smart.  Usually precise (sloppy engineers don’t last long) and prided themselves on being analytical and data-driven.  Emotions were irrelevant, distracting, with no place in their no-nonsense world.  This attitude always made me a little uneasy.  I had the feeling that emotions were part of the human condition.  Some people demonstrated them more visibly than others but they were something you couldn’t ignore or stuff away in the corner of your psyche awaiting the holidays or a day at the beach.  But what did I know, sneered my engineering colleagues.  I was a humanities major (history, actually).  And worse, I had been in sales.

Then I happened to read Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works”.  Pinker positioned emotions in a slightly different way.  Emotions were the engines behind goal-seeking behaviors.  If you don’t care about something, you don’t have any emotional investment in that something, and that something never gets done.  Now these emotions don’t have to be twitching on your sleeve.  They don’t have to express themselves in teeth-clenching, wide-eyed intensity.  They can be deep within you, invisible to the casual observer (I’m speaking to you, my engineering friends).  But they must drive you to some action directed at a goal, whether it’s to feed hunger, pursue a hot date, write an elegant piece of software code or to become an upstanding citizen.  To infuse a machine with the motivation to solve as-yet-to-exist problems is one of the challenges that face researchers in Artificial Intelligence.

So what’s the point?  Everyone in business must have goals.  And these goals must be meaningful enough – that is rooted in emotional content – to spur thoughtful sustained action.  They must be articulated, measurable, and satisfying.  Goals must meet the smell test.  Are these goals really important?  How will I FEEL if I fail?  Are they important to those whom I’ll need to reach them; how do do I make them so?  If they’re that important, what, specifically, must I or the business do to achieve them? How will I know I’ve been successful?

So set some goals.  Make sure they come from the gut.  Plan the work and work the plan.  And your emotional barometer will tell you how you’re doing.  Just don’t tell your engineers.

Designed by Ponder Consulting ®