Sparks of Change

recap1260 change makers.  80 presenters.  50 cases.  32 countries.  3 days overflowing with sparks for positive change: NexusEQ at Harvard!

It’s nearly impossible to distill the meaning and power of this experience – I felt vibrantly awake.  Deeply connected.  Challenged.  Invigorated.  Full of wonder and hope and possibility and stress!  Here are a few highlights.  I can’t begin to capture all the insights, so this is just a first pass… I hope other conference attendees will share more in the comments — and hopefully we’ll have a DVD available soon :) 

audiencePerhaps the most significant “take away” from the conference had nothing to do with the “content.”  At the opening, I read the list of 32 countries, and asked the participants to stand as I read their home.  “32” is meaningless on it’s own, but country after country, the applause got louder, and the sense of connection amplified.  We are a network of deeply committed change makers, and we are together.  We belong.


It’s Time to Step Up

In the opening, I issued a challenge.  We’re in a precarious place.  Environmentally.  Economically.  Educationally.  The fabric of our societies are fragile, and we’re not moving quickly enough toward sustainable thriving.  At the same time, we can see positive change ALL over the world.  It’s time to dig deeper.

jf1We’ve set this vision:  1 billion people practicing the skills of emotional intelligence by 2039.  Maybe absolutely impossible, but what if?

And if we’re going to play the match, and do our best to see this come to life, we’re all going to have to reach a little further. 


@missahenkorah: Emotions spark change! @eqjosh

@DavidRCory: “Something is catalyzed when we connect with purpose” @eqjosh

@6SecondsEU: What if…1 billion people were practicing EQ by 2039? What would be different?


Calling All Change Makers

jensen1In the first keynote, Anabel Jensen reiterated the urgency of change, and reminded us that it’s in times of adversity and challenge that leaders step forward, and those leaders can be 5 years old or 95.

Anabel offered six ingredients every change maker needs, and her six commitments to keep practicing; first:  I can only change myself.  Imagine the world if we each were to develop the awareness and skills to take full responsibility for our own choices!

Another key point: If we’re not willing to stretch, even when it’s hard, we will not reach our potential.  She shared data about change, the power of role-modeling, the importance of connection – and the essential lesson of optimism.  Often it’s in the most difficult of situations where we also see the best in human beings.


jensen2As usual, Anabel engaged us to explore and consider and recommit – not someday, but now.  In small groups we identified the next steps that are critical for each of us.



@6SecondsEU: “You get up and make it work…and you do it with love.” @AnabelJensen

@CoachBanu: “I’ll never assume what the other person needs or wants. I will ask.” @AnabelJensen

@jenn_lofgren: Perseverance… Everyone can have a goal despite the most challenging circumstances – never give up! @anabeljensen


Negotiating with Emotions

shapiro1Daniel Shapiro gave a powerful keynote on finding our way through those challenges.  With humanity and humility (sharing some of his “low EQ moments” as a husband and father), his key point:  Emotions are driven by needs.  When “big emotions” come in, rather than ignoring, we have an opportunity to use the emotion as a signal of an important need.  By addressing the need, we go to the heart of the challenge.

One example:  Before they were married, Dan asked his then-girlfriend to watch his apartment.  Mia took the opportunity to redecorate.  On return, Dan started to un-decorate.  Lots of emotions… signaling a need for autonomy, a basic human desire to have SOME measure of control.

The lesson:  ACBD.  Always Consult Before Deciding.

They seem to have solved this challenge, because Dan brought their 7-3/4-year-old son Noah to share his advice on solving conflict:  Pause.  Take a breath.  Say you’re sorry.  Next argument, maybe we should all start there?  Dan’s work in international diplomacy shows us the urgency of this work on a global scale, but in the end, between individuals or nations, the challenges are much the same – and SEEING one another is an essential step.



Related Tweets:

@eqjosh: To appreciate: understand perspective, find merit in it, communicate that. Daniel Shapiro

@jenn_lofgren: How to address autonomy: ACBD Always Consult Before Deciding – Dan Shapiro

@6SecondsEU: In negotiation address one of the five core concerns…appreciation, autonomy. Affiliation, role, status…Dan Shapiro #NexusEQ

@eqjosh: Single deadliest mistake in negotiation is to assume a win-lose situation. Shift energy to me And you. Daniel Shapiro

@staciecgreen: All youth should be explicitly trained in negotiation with Daniel Shapiro. Can I have a teenage redo

@eqjosh: To deal with issues, even with ‘enemies’: build relationship then ask other person’s advice. From Roger Fisher, Daniel Shapiro




Celebrating Emotional Intelligence

At the end of the first day, we had our “EQ Fair,” which was one of my favorite parts of the conference.  24 “stations” with learning activities.  String trio. Hors d’oeuvres. 260 fabulous new friends.  Life is good!


This self-directed adventure of learning, fueled by social engagement, allowed all of us to connect with new ideas, powerful tools, each other, and ourselves.  As we learned later in the conference, this is actually one of the most powerful combinations for our brains!


What I particularly loved about this afternoon was juxtaposition of a rich learning environment and autonomy.  It brings me back to the points Dan Shapiro raised about negotiating effectively — this was an afternoon where people could fulfill their needs for autonomy, belonging, achievement, etc. 




Wired to Connect

Marco Iacoboni kicked off day 2 with a wonderfully in-depth session on the science of empathy, imagination, and change.  He shared a great deal of data, here are three key points:


1.  We are wired to connect.  We literally map one another’s experiences in our own brains – and at a cellular level we are constantly predicting what others intend.  It’s not just mimicry, it’s evaluation.


2.  For some time, we’ve heard about Type 1 and Type 2 brain processes – as Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking Fast and Slow.  The Type 1 processes are “quick and dirty,” and mirror neurons are heavily implicated in tuning into the data around us.  Type 2 processes are slower and based on weighing, reflecting, considering.  While there is some “competition” between these two systems, Iacoboni shared research they actually work because we have both.  Wisdom is about the integration of different aspects of mind.


3.  Learning is a process of connecting.  New synapses form.  Neural networks re-arrange.  While “ideas” are fascinating, it’s our social brain that really drives learning – fueled by imagination and empathy.  In fact, if we imagine ourselves as the topic of learning (in this picture, learning about how the internet sends data), his research shows that our brains activate more powerfully.



Related Tweets:

@6SecondsEU: If u want to understand something- imagine being that something- empathy!

@maxghini: Imagination is not a way to loose time but It’s a way to use all your brain’s potential!

@DavidRCory: Very cool, Marco Iacoboni explaining how emotions are contagious through mirror neurons #nexuseq

@eqjosh: Imagination is a kind of offline system of what happens in real life. Essential for empathy and learning! @marcoiacoboni

@eqjosh: The brain is built for interaction. Traditional classrooms are all wrong for the way the brain learns. @marcoiacoboni


wagner1How Does Innovation Develop?

Tony Wagner gave a compelling case for transforming learning – at school and work.  He found innovators around the world, and tracked down their most influential teachers and interviewed them! Bad news: almost all these educators-of-innovators were “outliers” who did not fit into their schools – but they have a number of powerful themes in common. The bottom line:  Traditional education is the opposite of what actually fuels innovation.


One key change that’s needed:  Focus on passion, purpose, and play.  Put less attention on “achieving” and more on fun.  Give kids, and adults, the opportunity to deeply engage in what matters to them – not because “it’s on the test” (which has 0 correlation with real-world performance), but because it’s meaningful and exciting.


Related Tweets:

wagner2@DavidRCory: Every single significant teacher in the lives of successful people were outliers who taught differently, Tony Wagner

@stevegarfield: Problem identification is more important than problem solving. @DrTonyWagner

@jimeagen: Want to create an innovator? Shift your view as a parent and allow for play, passion and purpose. Schedule less, bring in whimsy

@eqjosh: What skills will young people need to get & keep a job & be good citizens? What skills matter most in today’s world? @DrTonyWagner

@stevegarfield: “Adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.” @DrTonyWagner

@eqjosh: How many of you learned more from your failures than successes? Self-reflection required @DrTonyWagner

@jimeagen: What went wrong with the American Dream? #1: 70 % of our GDP is driven by consumer spending. Debt. This isn’t sustainable.

@eqjosh: Future of our economy needs to be based on innovation, not consumption @DrTonyWagner

@jimeagen: From Tony Wagner: “How much can a computer scored, multiple choice test tell us about anything to do with learning? Nothing.”

@6SecondsEU: Collaboration requires deep appreciation of culture & capacity to empathise. Tony Wagner

@riyaadseecharan: This is one of the most compelling keynotes I have attended.  Play, passion, purpose are keys to life. With @coachbanu in Boston.

@stevegarfield: What gets tested is what gets taught.  @DrTonyWagner

@stevegarfield: Innovators want to make a difference, more than wanting to make a lot of money. @DrTonyWagner 


Change is Opportunity

Myles Munroe shared his inspiring story of coming from poverty, finding spiritual truth, and being driven to make a difference.  He reminded us that just as each of us are here in this world to make a difference, so too are our business and institutions.  Money is a means to track business value, but it’s not what’s truly valuable in itself.


As change leaders, our job is to lead… and to embrace change.  That requires a special kind of courage based on deep conviction.


Related Tweets

munroe2@stevegarfield: The greatest source of disappointment in life is the expectation of things to remain the same.  @MylesMounroe1

@6SecondsEU: What would happen if you think opportunity when u hear the word crisis? @mylesmunroe #NexusEQ

@richthinking1: Initiate change and you can control it. Dr Myles Munroe.

@DavidRCory: “You came to earth to make a difference and you still owe us” Dr Myles Munroe

@6SecondsEU: The greatest protection against change is to expect it. @mylesmunroe1

stevegarfield Steve Garfield The greatest protection against disappointment is the expectation of CHANGE.  @MylesMounroe1

@stevegarfield: An expert is someone who has stopped thinking because they believe they know enough.  @MylesMounroe1

@stevegarfield Steve Garfield Chinese word for “crisis” @MylesMounroe1 #factcheck

@stevegarfield: Great leaders never seeks followers, followers are attracted to them.   @MylesMounroe1


Emotional Intelligence Drives Business

Among the many outstanding breakouts and panels, one of the most exciting was a discussion on emotional intelligence and business.  Outstanding panelists:

  • Shannon Brown, SVP, Chief HR & Diversity, FedEx Express
  • Melkart Rouhana, former Corporate Director of Global Learning, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
  • Elizabeth Priestman, Chief Marketing Officer, Fuse Powered Inc.
  • Caron Harris, CEO, Forward African Transport Services
  • Jean Dyer, Interim Dean, Division Health Sciences, Mass Bay Community College
  • Richard Hazeltine, Tech Leadership Development Manager, Zappos IP, Inc.
  • Hajj Flemings, Founder of Brand Camp University


A few key points:

  • You can’t innovate from a spreadsheet.  Creativity & change come from human connection – and emotion.
  • We have serious challenges and problems to solve: we need to bring all our capabilities to the floor, including the skills to build coalition across boundaries.
  • Influence is made from emotional connections.
  • Today there is a lot of “clutter” in the market and in our daily lives.  To cut through, we need a clear emotional connection to what’s important.
  • Passion is the “secret” ingredient that takes leaders toward meaningful success.
  • Successful business people see the value of building relationships.
  • Self-awareness is a central responsibility of leadership.



Related Tweets

@DavidRCory: This is about being a better human being #nexuseq

@6SecondsEU: EQ predicts 47% of individuals performance…Amadori case 2013. #NexusEQ

@FusePowered: @ZapposStyle @RitzCarlton @FedEx & Fuse: EQ Panel at Harvard University today! Why is EQ Important In Business?

@eqjosh: 7million packages to load & unload in 5 hour window, 290k employees — why FedEx is teaching emotional intelligence to leaders…

@eqjosh: FedEx priorities in order: 1. People.  2. Service. 3. Profit.  Why EQ matters.  Jimmy Daniel

@DavidRCory: Lauris Woolford, care for employees by coaching for development vs coaching for compliance

@HajjFlemings: The EQ in business panel at the #nexuseq Emotional Intelligence Conference! @nlharvard




What Does it Take to Lead Change?

Here are a few insights from six founders of organizations creating positive change around the globe.  An incredibly diverse group, they shared insights on their goals and challenges as change makers.

How do you sustain yourself?  Be self-aware.  Connect with your purpose.  See the change – watch people shift.  Renew yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually.  Build a great team including allies and mentors.


Related Tweets:

@6SecondsEU: Being a change agent… knowing its going to be difficult and being okay with that.

change2@BrentDarnell: Emma Freedman did an awesome job! What a remarkable young woman. Check out

@eqjosh: What helps me stay on track with vision? Really knowing myself. Fran Johnson

@eqjosh: What sustains me as a changemaker? Relationships. Optimism. Mentors. Team.


We Connect to Learn

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s presentation was stunning (and ended with a rousing standing ovation).  She’s a neuroscientist doing fMRI imaging about the role of emotion in learning – and her presentation is truly a role model of emotion in learning.  Head + Heart.  Three key points:imordino-1

1.  Our social brains, where we process emotion and connection, are “built on” brain areas that regulate our bodies and other basic survival functions.  When we talk about “gut feel,” guess what?  The part of our brains giving us signals about social connection are also regulating our viscera.  Gives new meaning to “visceral reaction,” right?

2.  As we heard from Iacoboni, the brain areas responsible for reflection on self & others seem are suppressed when we are focusing attention outward.  Emotional awareness & empathy are inhibited to “focus” outward, and visa versa. Immordino-Yang showed us these 2 brain areas, and made a potentially huge observation:  In a society where we’re HIGHLY stimulating this external-focus brain area, the reflective brain area is probably not developing fully.

3. Our brain’s systems for learning are based on social interaction.  Even the most technical information is turned into learning through the very same neurological processes that infants use to engage with their mothers.  It’s not just that social interaction improves learning:  In an absolutely fundamental way, learning occurs because of the importance our brains place on social connection.

 Here’s her free online course on neuroscience for educators.

imordino-2Related Tweets:

@6SecondsEU: Our biology is inherently a social one. Dr. Immordino-Yang

@DavidRCory: Inspiration is admiration for virtue and is embodied in the same neuro systems as our sense of self and changes our physiology

@riyaadseecharan Listening to the neuroscience of learning. #heaven

@eqjosh: Cognition & emotion are actually two simultaneous aspects of the same thought.  Dr. Immordino-Yang

@HajjFlemings: Listening to Dr. Immordino-Yang tell an impactful story at #nexuseq

@eqjosh: Physical & emotional pain play in the same neurological structures that work to keep us alive.  Dr. Immordino-Yang

@DavidRCory: We literally cannot live without social relationships

@eqjosh: What does really effective empathy look like?  A many-faceted mirror taking many perspectives at once.  Dr. Immordino-Yang

@eqjosh: The connections across massively interconnected brain cells are constantly changing = learning. Dr. Immordino-Yang

@jenn_lofgren: We cannot live without social relationships as evidenced by the Bucharest Intervention Project – Dr. Immordino-Yang #NexusEQ

@eqjosh: Empathic relational mechanisms in infant-mom interaction is basis of all learning. Dr. Immordino-Yang

@6SecondsEU: Art & science innovation from our unique ability to have empathic relation to ideas. Dr Immordino-Yang

@eqjosh: We bring passion to learning by forming an empathic connection w ideas. Dr. Immordino-Yang

@6SecondsEU: Our thoughts are inherently an emotional process. Dr Immordino-Yang #NexusEQ

@eqjosh: In empathic reaction, there is a critical pause where we link current situation to our own lives. Dr. Immordino-Yang #nexuseq

@jenn_lofgren: You can’t have emotion without cognition and vice versa. It’s two dimensions of the same thought. #nexuseq  Dr. Immordino-Yang

@CoachBanu: neuroscientist M.H. Immordino-Yang: our emotions are inherently part of our cognition at #nexuseq

@jenn_lofgren: Dr. Immordino-Yang passionate and engaging on neuroscience and emotions… Wow!

@eqjosh: “Gut feeling” we literally process some compassion in brain areas that regulate viscera (guts). Dr. Immordino-Yang

@eqjosh: Our survival as a species is completely integrated with survival of one another. Dr. Immordino-Yang


Thoughts, Emotions, Physiology

bensonDr. Herbert Benson delivered one of the final keynotes.  It was truly an honor to be in the room with this person who’s done so much to shape our understanding of “mind body” medicine.  Benson spoke about the stress response, and it’s counterpart: The relaxation response.  While Benson began this work in the 1970s, the science is now even more compelling.

New research shows that stress actually changes our DNA at a cellular level, and that learning to de-stress is not just “nice to have.”  While life throws us all kinds of challenges, we have choices about how we respond.  When we don’t take those opportunities, the effects on our vitality are significant.

Key points:

Emotions are biological.  Body, mind, heart – one system.

Stress is ‘normal’ but it’s not necessary to stay in distress.

Interrupting the uncertainty, the cycle of ‘what if this happens next’ is key to reducing stress. 



It’s Time

I closed the conference presenting our research on change, and a simple, powerful truth:  While most change fails (still), we now have the insights and skills to change our experience of change.

The challenge now is to leverage this science and make it part of every community, every school, every business.


About the author - Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.

View more posts from Joshua Freedman

Comments for this article (25)

  • Tauqir says:

    Thanks a lot Josh for sharing a new wealth of information: I was waiting impatiently for this. I wish I could digest all this in one go! Each presentation at Harvard needs a careful reading and reflection…and of course implementation. NexusEQ at Harvard is another milestone in spreading the message across, especially during the third phase of EQ journey. Congratulations on organizing a great conference!

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Thanks Tauqir – I think you are right that this is a significant milestone. It tells us something about the growing regard for emotional intelligence that a conference like this can happen. :)

  • Thank you for this recap Josh, I am so disappointed I was not able to attend. Well done by all!!!


  • Debbie beck says:

    Thank you for sharing this precis of the presentations for those of us unable to attend what must have been an awesome experience.

  • CONGRATULATIONS, Josh, on putting together a truly outstanding conference! I am so happy that I made the decision to attend. There were so many wonderful insights, evidences and perspectives shared, that my head is still spinning. I am proud to be a part of this growing EQ family, and having the opportunity to learn, develop my skills and knowledge and, in turn, become an agent for positive change for us as business partners, individuals and part of the human family…

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Thank you Ingrid! In truth, I’m spinning too – really the important take aways of the conference are so much deeper and more personal than what I wrote above. I thought I needed to write SOMETHING to get started… but there is another whole story in my heart & head about what it means for us all to be connecting in these new ways… and finding something powerful in the unique intersection of differences. Change happens from the edges — and we had so many overlapping circles here – science & practice just to start, but also culture, sector, age… yet in all this difference, so much alignment. Hope?

    • Hi Ingrid. I believe we met at Natalie’s station upstairs, and you had some info on boomer therapists burning out. Will you contact me at rob at Thanks!

  • Berni Albrighton says:

    It makes me sad to read this amazing piece..why? because I work in an environment whereby ‘leaders’ pay lip service to EI. I need to move!

  • Thanks, Josh!! Part of the power of Nexus is the connections that were made by the people who attended. Old friendships were reignited and new friendships were started. Together, we will be a positive force for EQ in the world. I can’t wait to see all the new projects that will come out of this wonderful conference!! Well done!!

  • sproudman says:

    Thanks Josh and everyone involved in the Nexus conference. Do we really have to wait four years for the next gathering?

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Hi Steve – yah, that’s a long time. We will definitely have lots of events before then! We already have a small event planning in California in October, and an Asia regional conference in November… plus virtual conference in March. The idea of doing NexusEQ every 4 years is that this kind of big conference is so resource intensive — to put on, and also for people from around the world to attend.

  • I’m still processing all of the learning and love that I took from this conference. I didn’t think it was possible, but each conference just keeps getting better and better. Highlights were listening to Daniel Shapiro who delivered a high energy presentation that made me look at negotiating in a whole new light. Tony Wagner who spoke with passion, insight and energy on what we as change agents can do for education and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang who taught us so much about neuroscience with great humor, love and in English I could understand. Combine that with the dedication, knowledge and energy of Anabel and Josh and it really was an event that will change the way I work and do business.
    There were over 32 countries represented and when Josh called out the names of the countries and we saw people from around the world standing up it was an emotional moment.

  • Waves of diverse emotion, passion and purpose surged throughout this conference. Dan shapiro’s insights to negotiation was a ‘seventh wave’ for me. At an individual social level or at world wide political level, effective negotiation involves respecting autonomy, building affiliation, acknowledging status, shaping a fulfilling role and expressing appreciation. Utilisng the skills of Emotional Intelligence to ‘step in to the shoes of others’ and appreciate the potential connection between self and others is powerful to identify shared outcome and resolution.
    The conference offered opportunity for sharing, connecting and building even more powerful actions. A take home thought is if every person connected with the conference increases their EQ by 10% the factors for positive change are immense.

  • Thank you again Josh, for this wonderful event. It definitely sparked changes with Petra and I, and will spark changes in Mixed Emotions as well as how we present it. We’re on board with developing EQ in a billion people. Petra and I will be speaking about it on a radio program in the next few weeks.

  • Shabbir Latif says:

    Thanks Josh for sharing. You are truly a leader for EI and change. What you have accomplished in organizing this and, in general, so much more as a leader for 6Seconds is amazing. I am honored to know you. Wished I was there, and I am waiting for more info that was shared at NexusEQ.

  • Hi! Josh, Thank you so much for sharing this super thriving information about the conference. From the beginning to it’s happening, it was always been a main part in everyone’s conversation who are related with Nexus Eq and 6Seconds. Why to wait for next four years? why not after every year? My friends, my family showed me their concern because I couldn’t attend this time. Now EQ is not just a part of me but also it is the main part of my family and work. And as it has been said again and again that, this year is an Application year for EQ. This is actually happening with me and many others I feel. People have definitely understood the importance of Emotional Intelligence; again it is going for them as knowing, choosing and giving. My experience is people now are ready to have EQ component with their life, family, education and work. 6seconds has done a lot of extremely important Basic ground work which has immense value in terms of EI and Relationship, Coaching, decision making and success. Where will be next conference? Please book my place :)))) I want to come; thanks again. :))))

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Hi Arati – yes! It’s a powerful goal: EQ in our daily lives. As mentioned above, we will have lots of events over these years, so many chances to connect & share w this growing community of EQ Change Makers. :)

  • bbanublog says:

    Simply Fantastic! great page to learn and understand what EI stands for in our life. My heartiest congratulations on being the most demanded and acknowledged subject of the era

  • John E. Howard says:

    Sounds like it was an inspiring time. I think the more specific and realistic leaders in this movement can be the more likely significant change is to happen. For instance, if we’re talking about social skills, it’s probably better if they are defined and can be measurable in some way and thus learnable. That’s the kind of work I’m most interested in, as opposed to something more vague and possibly saccharine. Thanks for doing important work

  • Cynthia says:

    I had life changing moments of truth at the Nexus EQ conference! Loved learning from Dr. Benson, and Dan Shapiro, along with the innovative Harvard MBA program. I also appreciate the opportunity to present on Seven Positive Emotions and the Liautaud Institute Process Designed Training for EQ.

    I also enjoyed emotional reciprocity by learning and laughing with a global EQ alliance. Thanks Josh, Jenny and the entire team for an positive emotional memory that sparked positive emotions.

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