Emotional Intelligence and Decision Making in the Face of Uncertainty

100 Open Startups
5 min readFeb 1, 2024

By Bruno Rondani, CEO 100 Open Startups

Recently, in one of our community of practice forums, a fascinating debate emerged about the role of emotions in innovation decision-making. The central question revolved around how emotions influence decisions regarding innovation opportunities and whether startup entrepreneurs or senior executives from large corporations are affected in different ways, considering the different contexts in which they are immersed.

The concept of emotional intelligence was the starting point. The group understood that emotional intelligence is a crucial component in the innovation process, directly affecting the way individuals and organizations respond to challenges, changes and new opportunities. When it comes to innovation, the ability to manage emotions, both personal and of the teams involved, can be the key to the success or failure of a project.

Three practical definitions of emotional intelligence in difficult situations were proposed:

1) Emotional Control: reacting in the best possible way, seeking the right emotions for the situation
In times of crisis, the ability to remain calm and control emotions allows for more lucid and informed decision-making. Dealing with uncertainty and pressure is common in the innovation process, and emotionally intelligent leadership can inspire confidence and motivate the team to find creative and effective solutions.

2) Search for the Best Result for All: act to achieve the most advantageous results for all parties involved.
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to understand and consider the feelings of others. In an innovation context, this means creating an environment where all voices are heard and valued, promoting collaboration and encouraging the co-creation of solutions that benefit everyone involved.

3) Self-knowledge and Adaptation: recognizing when you assume a negative state of mind and getting out of it as quickly as possible
Recognizing your own mental and emotional states is essential to quickly adapt to new situations. In innovation, this translates into the ability to step out of your comfort zone, learn from mistakes and adjust your course of action as necessary, without letting yourself be paralyzed by negative emotions.

Secondly, the group sought to identify the emotions commonly experienced in the innovation process:

Fear: Fear of the unknown, failure or even success can be predominant. Changes and innovations carry uncertainties and risks, which naturally generate apprehension.

Enthusiasm: The prospect of creating something new or turning an idea into reality can generate great enthusiasm. This feeling can be a powerful motivator to overcome obstacles and move innovations forward.

Anxiety: Worries related to the launch of a new product or service often result in restlessness, especially when faced with high expectations or when there is a lot at stake.

Curiosity: The search for new solutions and the exploration of unknown territories awaken curiosity, essential for innovation. The desire to learn and discover drives the creative process.

Skepticism: When faced with new ideas, skepticism is common, especially if the innovation challenges existing norms or seems too ambitious.

Frustration: When expected results are not achieved or progress is slower than anticipated, frustration can arise. This is particularly common in innovation processes, which often involve trial and error.

Pride: Achieving a groundbreaking feat or being recognized for a successful innovation can provide a deep sense of achievement and satisfaction.

Hope: Innovation often carries the promise of a better future, whether through improved products and services, more efficient processes, or positive contributions to society. Hope can be a powerful motivating force.
Next, we identify the most intense emotions for entrepreneurs and executives in innovation decision-making processes.

More intense emotions in startup entrepreneurs:

Enthusiasm and Passion: Entrepreneurs are often driven by a strong passion for their ideas and the potential to transform entire industries. Enthusiasm tends to be the driving force to innovate and overcome challenges.
Anxiety and Stress: Uncertainty and pressure to obtain financing, as well as to meet investor expectations, end up generating high levels of anxiety.
Hope and Optimism: Belief in the potential of your idea and the impact it can have often keeps entrepreneurs optimistic, even in the face of obstacles.
Fear and Skepticism: The fear of failure is a constant reality, especially in moments of critical decision making. Skepticism about market acceptance and product viability is also imminent.

More intense emotions in Senior Executives of Large Companies:

Caution and Deliberation: Executives tend to be more cautious, weighing the risks and benefits of innovation due to the responsibility of managing extensive resources and preserving the company’s stability.

Pressure and Responsibility: The need to maintain the company’s competitiveness and meet stakeholder expectations often results in intense pressure.

Confidence and Commitment: Senior executives often demonstrate a high degree of confidence in their decisions, backed by experience and market knowledge.

Resistance to Change: In some cases, there is a natural hesitation to adopt innovations that challenge established norms or require significant changes to the organizational structure.

The discussion revealed striking differences between the emotional states prevalent between entrepreneurs and executives. Entrepreneurs, imbued with enthusiasm and driven by energy and a willingness to take risks, are often attuned to emotions related to enthusiasm and hope, but also anxiety and fear of missing out on unique opportunities. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) syndrome, the avid quest to not miss opportunities, and being left out of the new wave seem to be very present in the emotional state of startup entrepreneurs.

On the other hand, senior executives, navigating the complex corporate ecosystem, are often guided by a more cautious approach, marked by reflective skepticism and meticulous analysis of the risks involved. This stance is often encapsulated in the Not Invented Here syndrome, a resistance to external ideas or products. When building the concept of open innovation, Henry Chesbrough deals with this topic very carefully, proposing a replacement emotion for “Proudly Found Elsewhere”, valuing and integrating innovative solutions from outside the organization.

In the mutual achievement phase, the interaction between these two worlds — the dynamic, enthusiastic entrepreneur and the analytical, prudent corporate executive — requires a delicate balance. The entrepreneur seeks to win over with his contagious enthusiasm and inexhaustible energy, while the executive seeks to mitigate risks and ensure that the proposed innovation strategically aligns with the corporation’s objectives.

At this stage, mutual respect and understanding each other’s motivations and emotions are fundamental. Emotional intelligence becomes the bridge that allows both parties to navigate their differences, recognize commonalities, and build a solid foundation for fruitful collaboration.
As with any worthwhile partnership, the dating and honeymoon phase is just the beginning. The real test comes in the shared journey that follows, punctuated by an even wider range of emotions and challenges.

Understanding and managing these emotions is not only beneficial, it is essential for a successful and sustainable innovation partnership.
Emotional intelligence, therefore, is not just a complement, but a central component in innovation decision-making, enabling entrepreneurs and executives to successfully navigate uncertainty, transforming challenges into opportunities and ideas into impactful realities.

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