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Innovation Starts with Empathy


"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." From design exercises to understanding how the brain works, this piece shares the importance of empathy in innovation and that to truly innovate, you must know for whom you innovate.

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  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Thank you for this. Valuable insight on what it means to connect with your consumers. I love that Daimler interviewed the people they were targeting to ask them about their lives, then had Daimler execs get gifts for their interviewees. I love this quote: "But most importantly, we wanted them to start to think differently about the cars they made. You see, on some level, a great product has to function like a great gift. It’s a physical manifestation of a relationship. It’s both an embodiment of who the giver is and what they think of the receiver. When you get a great gift, you can’t help but feel like the other person knows you. When you get a lousy gift, you wonder if they even thought about you. "

    I also absolutely loved learning about IBM's Operation Bear Hug! "To figure out how to make that possible, he sent his top 50 managers into the world to each visit at least five customers in person. He called it Operation Bear Hug, a culturally appropriate name for an empathy program at one of the least emotionally demonstrative companies in the Fortune 500. The managers weren’t supposed to sell product in those meetings. Instead, they were to listen to customer concerns and think about how IBM might help. Those executives’ 200 direct reports then had to do the same thing. Bear Hug immediately led to quicker actions to resolve customer problems, as well as greater attention to new market opportunities."

    • Phillip

      Thanks for sharing Alessandra! I absolutely agree. I find even in the nonprofit sector where the mission is explicitly designed for the constituents, there is a lack of what Patnaik says is the "firsthand contact" or even an empathetic approach to strategies.

      Increasingly, we see companies and organizations take this "firsthand contact" or "empathetic design" as a critical form of engagement. Extrapolating Daimler and IBM's lessons into a sense of care and concern for the costumer/constituent can be done and showcased in a genuine way (storytelling). This is a win and I can only hope that we move towards marketing and sales that not only uses ethnographic research and empathy for better revenue, but also for products and services that actually benefit the consumers they serve!