Marrying emotional intelligence with design thinking: Reshma Budhia

Substitute data with emotional intelligence and then marry it with design thinking, you will have a new formula to validate and commit to your idea says Reshma Budhia, Managing Partner,Toss the Coin.


Consumer behaviour, buying patterns, business models, technology - in fact just about everything in this world is changing at a frenzied pace. In the face of this dynamic world, we as business owners are constantly working to define our world from “as is” to “as it could be”. It means that to survive today we need to reinvent ourselves and our businesses more frequently than ever. We are now compelled to re-imagine our business models, develop advanced products or services and create unique customer experiences. And this, ladies and gentlemen, we know is not an easy task. It takes commitment towards a new idea to succeed, and this commitment comes only when the idea makes rational sense.

Traditionally any new idea is acceptable when it fits into the formula: logic + data = emotional comfort. A logical background supported by enough data gives us the emotional comfort to springboard the idea. Now the question is, where is the data for this new idea? We know what we really have is not data but hypothesis. How do you work with that! 

The answer is simple. Substitute data with emotional intelligence and then marry it with design thinking! You will have a new formula to validate and commit to your idea. 

Daniel Goleman first defined emotional intelligence (EQ) in 1995 as – understanding one’s own feelings, developing empathy for others and regulating emotions in a way that it enhances living. He went on to explain how using EQ one can motivate themselves, know their emotions, manage them and also build the right perception about the environment around them. Emotional intelligence is built on four pillars - self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Assessing your idea for these four parameters will give you the rationale to commit to your idea. 

How do you assess your Idea against these parameters? Thank God for design thinking. 

Design thinking, as explained by Tim Brown, is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

If you look closely enough you will find that emotional intelligence and design thinking are the perfect match for each other. While emotional intelligence defines the four pillars, design thinking lays out the principles to help assess them. Here’s how:


Measuring self-awareness means knowing your idea’s strength and limitation, and measuring its self-worth and capabilities. To do this, you need to deep dive into two primary methodologies advocated by design thinking:

- Need analysis done using the what, how and why laddering method. This allows deep diving into an idea to understand the primary and latent needs that the idea will be addressing.

- Real-Win-Worth analysis helps you gauge your idea to conclude if it will solve a real world problem, can you win with it and what is it worth.


In the context of an idea, self-management is defined as managing disruptive business environments within your organization, measuring performance and scope for adaptability. To do this, the design principles you can use are:

- The “How might we” question series that become the seed to germinate your ideas. It gives you the tool to arrive at wide range of questions to narrow down your idea.

- Brainstorm, brainstorm and brainstorm. To understand the scope for adaptability you need to recreate every possible scenario and persona. Do this using some methods like sketch modelling, stoke activities and body storming.

Social awareness

To be socially aware would mean to generate empathy, be service oriented and leverage diversities. Thankfully design thinking principles lie bang in the centre of these. There are multiple methodologies that can help you assess your idea for these. Some of my favourites are:

- Empathy Map that allows you to immerse, observe and engage with people to draw out some unexpected insights. Using the right techniques you can listen, observe and synthesize your learnings to form a relevant customer journey map.

- Saturate & Re-group is an excellent team exercise to weigh your idea against multiple factors and see how they can open up newer dimensions and form tangible solutions for a diverse audience.

Relationship management

For any idea to come into action it is important that every stakeholder has a role to play. To do this you need to gauge the influence of the idea on the audience, build on communication, collaborate and manage conflicts. While most of the design principles allow you to measure the above, the two that I think are the most relevant are:

- 2 x 2 matrix is a tool to identify the relationship between users, their problems and your suggested solution. This method allows you to visually communicate the degree of relationship and the factors that impact it.

- Storytelling is one of the oldest methods to mobilize and motivate people towards your common goal. Design thinking principles have laid out some great methods to develop the blueprint for your stories. 

Clearly the right design thinking framework will give you the tools and techniques to assess emotional intelligence of an idea. When you have the answers you can surely commit. All you need now is to discover this pair within your organization and say “I do”.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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