June 24, 2008

Verifying Theory vs. Applicable Utility

Filed under: Emo (EQ), Marketing Philosophy, Personal Branding — Robert John Ed @ 5:51 pm

A very smart friend of mine, Jesse Kluver (no online presence except Facebook) recently sent me an email with a very good argument about emotional intelligence. I know very well I’ve dealt with this topic copiously in the recent months, but it warrants the attention. Here’s my review of Daniel Goleman’s book. Since then, I’ve had a quick talk regarding the validity EQ with a very smart consultant (the beginnings of which are here) and read some articles on it as well. Jesse is extremely well versed in psychology and philosophy.

What he presented that emotional intelligence (as well as the Mozart Effect and Multiple Intelligences) is argued to not be backed well by empirical evidence by one academic. The link is to a long article, but you can skip to the EI aspect. Then another academic writes that the initial paper is somewhat correct, but misses some empirical studies that have been done more recently.

At the end of this, what I take from it is that Emotional Intelligence is a theory without great evidence to support it. Similarly, MANY different theories within all kinds of sciences are disputed and attempted to be discredited; for good reason. The truth is that even within our advanced abilities, there are no absolute truths.

We also had the following exchange (excerpts):

Jesse Kluver: These ideas carry VERY little weight in academic circles, but they are VERY popular with businessmen and non-academics. Do NOT be fooled. They are deleterious to the practice of psychology however, because they detract from substantive and promising theories (costing businesses and the American economy millions if not billions of dollars annually) and charlatans like Goleman et al. make millions off of non-theory.”

Me: “What’s of note is that my study of psychology, sociology, philosophy and any thing else is usually for two reasons. The first is natural curiosity and the fact that learning is enjoyable. The second is that the information has the potential to improve my ability in marketing and business.

Emotional intelligence is the only of the three “theories” I’ve dealt explicitly with. Reading Goleman’s book was very valuable for me, regardless of empirical evidence. EI is cited in business by many consultants often; I don’t subscribe to consultants or their buzz words. I did realize on reading EI that the way our emotions overtake our cognitive processes and decision making is of HUGE importance to relationships in business and out. The EI model may be too simplistic physiologically in truth; but the concept behind it, that emotional awareness and understanding has great intrinsic value for anyone who has to work with other people, is extremely important. So for me, the veracity of a theory may not necessarily be as influential as the practicality of the concept behind it. I say this with awareness that your vocation cannot accept ideas on such merits. And though that may make me an apologist, it’s necessary to take what works in application to my vocation and disregard the rest; for simple inability to dedicate the necessary time to understanding, verifying and furthering a practice out of my scope of knowledge/career.”

JK: Just because a “theory” or an actual theory is incorrect does not diminish its ability to enlighten or inform. This is why the psychoanalytic school (Freud) is still around. Projective identification is a good example here. All those anti-gay pastors like Ted Haggard or Catholic Priests often project their internal (unconscious) anguish onto others and attempt to identify with the opposite of what they hate MOST about themselves. Although this theory is technically unfalsifiable, it offers a unique window into the human psyche. In business, this sort of perspectivizing (I think I’m making up words) can be invaluable.

Apropos of EI and Goleman’s view, this is also true. There can be a good deal of practical benefit from a non-theory. I should have probably mentioned this earlier but with respect to business (both the intangible stuff like worker satisfaction and the tangible stuff like productivity or sales quotas), it depends on how we intend to use psychology to improve.

An astute former psych major from marketing or HR could pick up a book like Goleman’s, process it, and give one heck of an emotional sensitivity training workshop! And yes, it could be highly effective. We could also do this for cultural awareness training (huge in marketing now as you know with globalization and overseas business), gender awareness training, and leadership training. All of these can be (and have been) somewhat (if not highly) effective. Too often though, there is no rigorous follow-up done to see if the intervention was as successful as it was perceived to have been. So we come into a few problems that I’d like to highlight (which is the origin of my criticism of non-theory).”

Me: “Do I want to know how our body works? Certainly. In fact, I’d advocate the correct/truthful statements of our biological workings 10/10 times; the problem is that we haven’t solved these ideas completely. So you can see that my writing and explanations of psychology/EI/whatever are purposefully based on their utility, not their veracity. Though I don’t want to throw out a bunch of lies and hearsay either.

It’s a difficult line to toe. The real point though, is that understanding and developing emotional recognition and awareness is very healthy for me and others in business. Being able to recognize your emotions before acting on them and adjusting accordingly could have the power to really propel your career where otherwise it would run into trouble. As to the biological validity of the particular theory? I don’t know. But the practical use of being cognizant, extremely valuable.”

So what does this all mean? Marketers are not scientists and scientists not marketers. My eagerness to learn about psych (or most subjects, for that matter) could be described at best as a genuine curiosity to the human condition and at worst as another tactic to manipulate for financial gain. Scientists work in order to truly understand the happenings of the universe and the betterment of man kind. There work is certainly more respectable from a philosophical stand point.

As such, my application of scientific theory is based on the utility derived from applying the theory and not the truth behind it. A much more selfish perspective. Scientists working in the field are much more concerned with reality, or the whole truth of the situation than the application toward another discipline. Both view points exemplify our respective situations.


1 Comment »

  1. It’s also worth noting that scientists (psychologists in this case) are notoriously POOR at selling their ideas and interventions.

    PhD business consultants often confuse “correctness” with “salability.”

    The scientist’s foray into the boardroom usually consists of a powerpoint slide or two citing correlation coefficients and drab technicalities.

    Although technically correct, businesses often fail to accept sound advice because scientists need to learn how to sell and apply their own ideas!

    Marketing permeates all things, even the utility of social science.

    Comment by Jesse Kluver — June 25, 2008 @ 5:20 am

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