Innovation Starts with Empathy: The Importance of Developing Deep Connections with the People You Serve
- Oct 20, 2009
This article was originally published on http://designmind.frogdesign.com.
A few years ago, my publisher asked me to write a book about innovation. They’d read some of the articles I’ve written on the subject over the years, and they wanted more. And although I was flattered, I had to tell them no. The world didn’t need another book on innovation — there are too many as it is. I instead made them a counter-offer: Maybe what the world needed was a book about empathy.
At Jump Associates, my colleagues and I have had the chance to collaborate with some of the world’s most amazing companies. And if there’s one thing that we’ve learned in all that time, it’s that companies prosper when they’re able to create widespread empathy for the world around them. That’s why I ended up writing Wired to Care, which shows how great companies around the world, from Nike to IBM, benefit from building a culture of widespread empathy for the people they serve.
Every one of us understands empathy on an individual level: the ability to reach outside of ourselves and walk in someone else’s shoes, to get where they’re coming from, to feel what they feel. Widespread empathy is about getting every single person in an organization to have a gut-level intuition for the people who buy their products and services (the folks who really matter).
How many times have you stared at a competitor’s new product and said, “We had that idea two years ago, but we just didn’t act on it.” Well, why not? Did you think the market research wasn’t quite right? Did you become convinced that it wasn’t a good idea when you couldn’t rally other people around it? Did people get in your way with stupid or irrelevant questions that tied the team up in a state of analysis paralysis?
When your organization develops a shared and intuitive vibe for what’s going on in the world, you’re able to see new opportunities faster than your competitors, long before the rest of us read about them in The Wall Street Journal. You have the courage of your convictions to take a risk with something new. And you have the passion to stick with it even if it doesn’t turn out right the first time.
Companies with widespread empathy can even ensure the quality of what they make when every part of the organization isn’t firing on all cylinders. At Nike, people who work on running shoes tend to be runners themselves. So even if the market research isn’t that great, the shoes end up being awesome anyway.
This isn’t about market research. It’s not about the Voice of the Customer. It’s about strategy and culture. Imagine a place where every person has the same intuitive connection to the world — not just the folks in marketing and design, but the people who work in finance, too. And in HR. And legal.
The line between inside and outside the company starts to blur. Rather than seeing yourselves and your customers as us and them, you start to see yourselves as part of the same tribe. You start to think like your customers and feel confident enough to rely on your intuition. You find yourself anticipating what real people are up to and what they’re looking for from you. The effects can be profound.