Innovation Starts With Empathy

Empathy isn’t for Wimps. It Disrupts & Transforms.

In 1963, a group of peaceful marchers were attacked by dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama. The images were broadcast across the US and the world. They galvanized a nation into action and took down powerful, ingrained social and political institutions. This incident, and its subsequent broadcast, is now widely acknowledged as one of the major turning points of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why?

One word: Empathy. Far from being soft, touchy-feely, or passive, empathy is one of the powerful, driving forces of humanity. It feeds into our natural desire to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others. This may seem esoteric and too ‘big’ to be applicable to the practical, day-in and day-out nature of product innovation. But it actually speaks to the core reason why empathy-driven experience innovation actually works. And sustains itself.

When is the last time a product made you feel understood?

When we, as innovators, understand the lives of the people we are creating for — truly understand their hopes, aspirations, needs, and yes, even suffering — it motivates us to solve those problems. It infuses our work with meaning and makes us more likely to get creative in our approaches to solving the problem. It keeps us up at night thinking about our work far outside of the 9–5 working world. And it encourages us to leave our egos behind and collaborate across disciplines to surface the best idea. All key elements of successful innovation. After all, who of us doesn’t want to change the world?