In business, empathy is increasingly becoming a word linked to design thinking and human-centered design (HCD)–two approaches to help organizations solve complex problems creatively. Instead of focusing on the problem though, a design mindset instead focuses on the solution and action towards creating a desired future. And, that’s where empathy comes in and why it’s a gift worth getting.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When it comes to design thinking and HCD, empathy helps teams think beyond the problems that they’re currently facing by challenging their individual mindsets and perspectives. This is one of the key reasons why design thinking and HCD are often tied to successful work in digital transformation innovation. Through these processes, people temporarily let go of personal assumptions and biases that might stand in the way of creativity and invention to surface new possibilities.
We live in an era of digital Darwinism and we need leaders to…lead
To compete for the future takes more than technology. That’s why the “H” in HCD represents human-centered design. Those organizations making notable advancements do so with purpose by focusing on real people, real problems and real opportunities. In my research, I’ve consistently found that progressive companies prioritize innovation and digital transformation by focusing efforts on customer experience (CX) and/or employee experience (EX). Why? Because customer and employee behavior is evolving as a result of how people adapt to the consumerization and mass proliferation of technology in all aspects of their lives.
I call this phenomenon, “digital Darwinism.” Technology and society evolve. As they do, behaviors, standards, customs and values progress. Often, this happens to greater extremes than most organizations can keep up with let alone track. Many executives don’t actually see the extent of digital Darwinism or the change around them. They’re focused on quarter-to-quarter performance, shareholders, stakeholders and scaling business as usual hoping to increase margins and efficiencies. As a result, innovation and digital transformation are viewed as cost centers and not as investments in competing for the future.
Innovation and digital transformation are impossible without a shift in mindset and perspective. The world changes while we debate it.
Truth is that many executives, no matter how much they want to change (or how little) are caught up in the cycles, norms and guardrails created in a time when digital Darwinism wasn’t as great of a threat. But now it is. Customers and employees are evolving. Their standards and preferences are moving toward new and different solutions. Disruptive technology is only accelerating. And the reality is that the people making decisions about the future of business are not modern customers or employees. So, when it comes to digital transformation and innovation, empathy is a mandate. You have to see how people, human beings, are different than how today’s assumptions, processes, policies, technologies and value propositions are designed.
Now more than ever, empathy is a gift worth receiving. It allows you to see the world through the eyes and expectations of those defining the era of digital Darwinism. It gives perspective to breakthrough limitations in how we see the state of the world, what’s possible and where can we not only deliver against expectations, but set new bars for them. Design thinking and human-centered design are just two of the ways empathy is put to work. Where everything begins is in our aptitude to change and our receptiveness to receive the gift of empathy to lead the way. Once we do, it is then our turn and responsibility to give the gift of empathy unto others. There’s a saying, true leaders don't create followers, they empower other leaders.
This is our time…