Embrace your Inner Darth: The Dark Side of Venture Building, with Misha de Sterke and Leo Custers

I have been thinking about conflict a great deal lately, inspired in part by an ongoing conversation on Clubhouse between Palestinians and Israelis.  Could it be that difficult moments are the ones that are the most generative?  Misha de Sterke and Leo Custers clarified it in their June 8 session:  When we embrace pain, fear, conflict, and tension, we can get insight into challenges, develop creative solutions, and make surgically-precise decisions.

Emotion is everywhere

Innovation talks often preach positivity and “we can”.  But of course the risks that innovators face are very real — if you’re truly working on something uncertain, it’s entirely possible for someone to fail on the project, miss their bonus, or find that their “day job” is gone when they return from their innovation adventure.  These emotions are real … and they have consequences.  Misha and Leo point to CB Insights which reveals that most of the obstacles that innovators face have something to do with emotion — think of lethal errors like ignoring customers, losing focus, or being unwilling to pivot when necessary. These kinds of errors might be grounded in fear, uncertainty, or distrust. 

What if these emotions are not bad (or for that matter, good) — what if they are simply delivering information?  What kind of creative response opportunity opens up when we treat emotions as interesting? 

What to do with dark emotions 

Leo and Misha say: When you feel difficult emotions, just wait a moment. Instead of reacting quickly and off the cuff, listen to “the ear-deafening silence” and reflect.  What are these emotions telling you?  If you can be at ease with your own dark emotions and those of others, truly accept the loneliness that comes with feeling your own feelings, you can make better decisions and implement them with surgical precision. 

Misha and Leo left us with five guiding principles to follow in the face of dark emotions

  1. Be and stay a couple of moments in the ear-deafening silence
  2. Reflect, understand what the dark side of the emotion wants to tell you
  3. Based on that information, exercise creativity and reflection:  Create strategies and solutions and implement them with surgical precision
  4. Train as a group to tolerate your own and the group’s dark feelings, so that you can be at ease.
  5. Embrace the dark side, be a creative leader in dark moments.  

Are you swayed by fear of disqualification, or being left alone?  Or do you dare to experience these feelings, accept the fact that you might be wrong or lonely, find freedom in that acceptance, and make tough choices? 


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