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Empathy – how we’re all wired to care December 6, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in Wired to Care, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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Dev Patnaik, founder of Jump Associates, recently published Wired to Care: how companies prosper when they create widespread empathy. The book made a compelling case for incorporating empathy for individuals and organizations, and walks through several case studies for well-known firms like Nike, Target, and Steelcase.  In particular, there were two themes that stood out for me as I was reading the book.

(1) How the rise of industrialization has exacerbated the disconnect between producer and consumer

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, producers and consumers worked and lived side-by-side. The two groups led similar lives and shared implicit knowledge about the other.  The baker lived down the street and knew what types of cookies were popular in his village. The blacksmith knew how to attach horseshoes for the types of horses prevalent in his district.  Information flowed freely between the two groups – producers and consumers.

With the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing became something that happened elsewhere. Clothing was mass produced in garment towns like Lowell, Massachusetts.  Food products like packaged cookies were made in a large manufacturing facility, where flour and sugar arrived from other manufacturing facilities.  The feedback loop between producers and consumers was broken.  As a result, it became increasingly difficult to innovate and design products for people whose lives seem alien to your own.

In today’s global society, snowshoes are made in rural southern China and winter parkas sewn in Mexico.  These producers don’t intuitively know what life is like for someone who loves to snowshoe or ski.  Thus, silly mistakes are made in the design and marketing because of this disconnect.

(2) Why firms like Nike and Apple are innately empathic organizations

The ranks of Nike and Apple are filled with employees who live and breathe the brand.  Nike’s campus features an outdoor track passing tall spruce trees and gorgeous lakes, soccer fields, basketball courts, and more.  Employees are actively encouraged to exercise during the work-day and use Nike products.  Nike’s employees are ultimately also their customers, and like all customers have opinions and ideas about how to improve the product and experience.  End result is an empathic organization with a strong feedback loop. Pretty powerful source of market research.

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