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Empathy and the Innovation Process



Empathy and the Innovation Process

As humans, we’re naturally emphatic. Although we’ve been discouraged to follow those instincts professionally. There’s a myth that feelings have no place in the office. It’s those feelings which allow us to discover our customer and their needs. It drives us outside our self-absorbed bubble to see the world anew and conceive new meaningful solutions. This is practiced by putting aside our own preconceived ideas, adopting humility, and choosing to understand the problems, needs, and aspirations of others instead.

Empathy is at the heart of innovation. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience (the principles of customer service), innovation is a pointless task. A deep understanding of the people you are helping is essential for a meaningful solution to be designed and adopted. Without this understanding, innovation is fruitless.

How do you inspire lasting empathy, and how can empathy become a core cultural value?

Here are three actionable steps:

Make the connection that everything the company does is for humans. 

Ask your teams how do they think your customers feel when they see, hear, and interact with your products, services, and employees? The answers may surprise you.

Bring empathy into the conversation and build the skill of empathy in your teams. 

Does your team know what empathy is? Start the conversation on what empathy means, and how it applies to them individually and their specific functions. Voicing just how critical empathy is towards innovation will plant the seed in their minds and lay groundwork for an empathy-first philosophy. Be proactive and conduct ride-alongs, walk-alongs, shop-alongs; whatever it takes to get in your customer’s shoes.

Bust the myth that empathy does not belong in the office. 

This is just fallacy, but one that will remain until employees truly believe that being emphatic is an integral part of everything they do. Start by showing how it relates to their specific functions.

In an increasingly competitive world, the need to be empathetic has taken on heightened importance. Companies that don’t look at things from the perspective of their customers run the risk of antiquating themselves by their refusal to consider opinions other than their own.

Embracing something as critical as empathy isn’t complicated.

Empathy is at the heart of customer service. Truly understanding the customer and being responsive to their individual needs requires empathy. The old adage you should ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ is a perfect personification of what it means to be empathetic, and the level of empathy you should strive for to drive innovation.

Sue Mosby is the Founder and CEO of Infinium, an innovation consultancy. For over 30 years, she has helped senior leaders capture new growth opportunities, imagine new products and service lines, and build innovation competency in their organizations. Her ability to merge creativity and design thinking enables her client’s to build the mindset, skillset, toolset, and process to succeed. Sue holds a design degree from the University of Missouri and is a former co-owner of a sixty-person architectural firm. Sue is a Certified Innovation Mentor from iVia | Certified Innovation Mentor Program founded by the University of Notre Dame Executive Education, Whirlpool and Beacon Health Systems. She is the Faculty Coordinator for the program and serves on the national iVia Steering Committee. As a recognized leader in innovation and change leadership, Sue is sought as a keynote speaker and consultant. Her industry experience includes financial services, consumer products, packaging, engineering, technology and manufacturing companies. Some of Sue’s clients include H & R Block, Samsung, Sprint, Black & Veatch, and Wells Fargo.