It is all around me.  Perhaps I am suffering that phenomena of when you tune in to something it seems to keep presenting itself in various forms.  For me, it is the power of Empathy to unlock so many positive things, such as creativity, innovation, employee engagement, meaning and purpose.  Everywhere I look I see evidence that Empathy matters.  It is a critical component in design thinking as empathy unlocks opportunities.  Empathy is a driver of business results, as explained by Dev Patnaik in Wired to Care.  And, with empathy, you can find opportunities to connect your business to a meaningful purpose for your employees and customers, which is also good business as explained in Jim Stengel’s book Grow.  It is a magic ingredient; one that humans are wired to experience, as we now know with the discovery of mirror neurons.

Empathy, the ability to see/feel the world as another does, creates positive conditions for good things to happen.  It is something I tapped into early in the development of the open source, voluntary network at P&G for design thinking.  We had a “pay it forward” mentality named for the movie by that title.  We asked people in the network to help 3 other businesses apply design thinking in some small way with no obvious “what’s in it for me” benefit.  This positive action was contagious and helped grow the community and the impact of design thinking.

At BIF 9 Empathy came up again. Dr. James R. Doty, MD of Stanford University, a neurosurgeon who studies the neuroscience of compassion, spoke about the power of empathy “People who have a habit of thinking and acting with empathy have steadier heart rates, healthier blood pressure levels and stronger immune systems.”  Another speaker at BIF 9, Rabbi Irwin Kula also talked about the “gap between technological change and our ethical response to it as ever widening”.  Technology creates power.  That power needs to be tempered by something, which he suggests is greater morality. I call that counter balance to power empathy.  He calls for “early moral adopters” to lead the way on how to balance the power of technology with its ethical use.  Understanding beyond your own “self serving need” to see how it might impact others and how they might feel is a critical skill in today’s increasingly empowered world.

One of the things I love about working in a design thinking way is that we keep empathy at the heart of what we do as we consider solutions and innovations. Rabbi Kula would say that is the obligation required of those with great power.  Dr. Doty would say in is in our all best interests, after all demonstrating empathy is good for the heart and soul.


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