In Search of the Future Organization V — EQ & Managing at the Margin

Pravir Malik
7 min readMay 3, 2024


In the corporate arena, emotional intelligence (EQ) is often thought of too narrowly. It is not just an item to be ticked off; more importantly, it can allow the system to be managed on the margin and plays a crucial role in facilitating the emergence of deeper personality and truer poetry. However, the right EQ system needs to be used for this. I’ll get into that later in this post.

First, let me put EQ in the context of the two scales mentioned in Power of Wolves. If a system is a ‘complex adaptive system,’ it has the advantages of a super-linear scale—which is responsible for innovation—and a sub-linear scale—which is responsible for economies of scale. The cumulative differential of these two when compared with the simpler linear scaling, is the hallmark of complex adaptive systems (CAS): the more the differential, the more securely an organization acts as a complex adaptive system. But as with anything, there are always active forces and dynamics that can marginalize advantageous scaling.

For example, a successful organization can become subject to its success. Because it may have been very innovative in the past, it assumes that nothing new that may happen can ever really disturb it. It continues to do what it has always done. It begins to rely on past laurels. This is reflected in rigidity in thinking and acting that easily become the seeds of its destruction. It becomes important to manage this with a high degree of discrimination. Otherwise, the value will easily be eaten away. Conversely, as size increases and economies of scale become an advantage, redundancy, fragmentation, and wasted effort often chip away at value. The same thing is often repeated in different parts of an organization, resulting in much waste.

The question, then, is how do you practically manage these things that can essentially destroy the advantage that being a complex adaptive system offers?

Luckily, we all have a very sophisticated, though often latent, mechanism. It’s emotional intelligence (EQ). It’s a radar whereby we can become aware of what’s happening in the system through signals that arise in ourselves. So, it might be a signal of the mind. It might be signals of the heart. It might be a signal from the gut. Or simply signals of sensation. As a result, we often get a sense of how another is feeling, or we can get an intuition from something in the system that’s not quite right, and it comes up as a kind of disturbance within us. If we pay attention to it closely, it becomes easier to manage what the system tells us.

I have developed an always-on web-based software tool through many iterations in the last 25 years. It is currently used by teams and organizations. One of the first iterations was with the Indian Armed Forces in the 1990s when the tool still existed as a desktop version. I created this early version for one of my marketing classes while still at Northwestern University’s Kellogg.

Toward 2010, once it had been transferred to the web, it began to be used by Stanford University Medical Center (SUMC). A former client of mine at the time, Todd Prigge, a giant of a man, had this ability to look at you just at that moment when you were distracted in his classroom. Or if he looked at you, it meant he would call on you. In either case, if you ever needed EQ prowess, it was then! He was now the Director of Organizational Development (OD) at SUMC, and because of his love for all things OD, he was willing to try this particular EQ experiment at SUMC.

The tool was intended for teams of 5 to 40 people. People would enter what they feel about a particular situation or project, using some dominant emotion they may be experiencing about it. The emotion was just the tip of the iceberg, and the subjective information about why an emotion arose was more important. In fact, in the most recently updated version, the emotion-based entries helped surface deeper-seated mental models — perceptions, assumptions, thoughts — about how and why the world worked the way it did from the point of view of individuals, or when aggregated, from the points of views of teams, or even departments, or even the company as a whole. Insight into this is invaluable because it allows changes that influence the ‘system’ to be understood and made.

Now, it so happened that my book Connecting Inner Power With Global Change: The Fractal Ladder came out about the same time I began working with SUMC. I had also begun interacting with Dan Henkle, a senior executive at The Gap in San Francisco, who perhaps is the only person I know who flipped between being SVP of Human Resources and SVP of Corporate Responsibility at least a couple of times, a testament to the faith that the CEO had in him to manage these crucial portfolios as per need of the organization. I met him when I was managing director of Advisory Services at BSR.

From the fractal perspective, the interesting thing is that in the book, I made the case that large, complex, global issues such as climate change will only shift when individuals' smallest patterns and perceptions change. That was the point of ‘fractal’: big hairy problems are always the result of small, subtle patterns that continue to repeat themselves on different scales. They have to be changed at the source!

Now, all this synchronicity led to a galvanizing event. The Gap sponsored a radio show on the book. It was a 13-episode radio show that went over each chapter in detail. Each episode had a panel discussion, and a couple of members of the Organizational Development group of Stanford University Medical Center were on almost every show. As a result of this event and under Todd's continued aegis, I got permission to conduct experiments at SUMC related to organizational development.

Now, many times, people don’t know what they’re feeling. A constant I have noticed, though, is when asked to engage with the EQ software and the rigors of self-reflection it entails, there will be a magic 20% that will resist it with all their might. You can see this clearly when conducting the mental-model type analyses. Also, the tool has been universally applied across all departments that comprise organizations, and one thing I often see is that even if a person tends to be blocked off from feeling, to begin with, so long as they agree to engage with it, they usually begin to feel a lot more and allow themselves to feel a lot more, even in the corporate space. I have seen reticent people sharing much more about who they are, even allowing high vulnerability to arise. Further, regardless of organization, four months seems to be the optimal time for teams to continue to use the software. This is because it is hard work — every single entry made by members of a team needs to be discussed by the team at least every other week, and action taken to address the issue underlying the surfacing of the emotion.

There are also useful metrics calculated in real time with every new entry added. Many teams seek to improve these metrics over a few weeks. To get concrete, one of the metrics concerns how effectively a team can change a negative pattern into a positive one. Another metric concerns whether negative feelings are more in the body, heart, gut, or mind. Trends in each of these require different ways to address them and different implications for what the team needs to do differently. The tool will also assess the degree to which organizational core values are being met by correlating entries made and descriptive words used with what is important for the culture where the tool is being used.

These are some examples of the metrics, and there are many more. Based on the use of the tool at Zappos, the then CHRO, Hollie Delaney, and I co-authored an IEEE paper on the use of this EQ tool and the metrics it shed light on in the context of moving an organization to operate more as a CAS. Having insight into values for these, how they are changing, and how the metrics are affected by changes that the team is making has proved useful. The impact of a leadership change can be highlighted by the tool. It is easy to see the trend of entries before and after the change and assess whether it was perceived positively. So, on several relevant dimensions, a real-time picture is created. In the aggregate, this allows a team or organization to manage the system canvas at the margin.

In the aggregate, this allows a team or organization to manage the system canvas at the margin.

I will mention one more thing to do with managing at the margin. Being able to manage noise or reduce negative patterns individually or in the aggregate means that deeper, more meaningful patterns have a chance to show themselves. This becomes important because it is then that poetry arises. This gets to the reality of ‘powers within,’ the deeper powers that we want access to that, in turn, will practically tend to drive things differently. We will explore this shortly.

(To be Continued…)

Part — I: The Wizard of Oz

Part — II: The Power of Wolves

Part — III: The Necessity of Poetry

Part — IV: The Other Side of the Coin

Part — V: EQ & Managing at the Margin

Part — VI: The X-Factor

Part — VII: Power, Jedi Power & Light

Part — VIII: The Mathematics of Organization

Part — IX: Imperative of a Quantum-Like Core

Part — X: The Secret of Nataraja