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Wired To Care February 12, 2012

Posted by Laura Brandner in Wired to Care.

At least eight times a day, every day, for two weeks.  That’s how often I tested my blood glucose as part of a clinical study at work (Abbott Diabetes Care).  I had two transmitters adhered to my body, carried around two glucose meters (that couldn’t be more than 10 ft away at any time), and lugged supplies like test strips, lancets, a lancing device, and hand sanitizer with me at all times.  I had volunteered for this study for the experience.  I wanted to get a small glimpse into what life was like for someone with diabetes – understand their frustrations with a product, prick my fingers constantly, figure out how to test discreetly, and feel what it was like to answer the inevitable questions I would get when testing.

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Around the time I started the study I also started reading Wired To Care, by Dev Patnaik.  The book focuses on how empathy for customers can help companies create better products and services, and even how this empathy can create meaning around one’s job.  As I turned the pages and felt the pricks in my fingers, I identified completely.

The book describes many compelling examples that show how empathy for customers has created value for companies.  It shows how companies thrive by hiring the customers they are serving (Microsoft’s Xbox, Harley Davidson, Nike), how companies struggle when they lose touch with their customers (Maxwell House’s Robusta Blend, American car manufacturers’ incentive for employees to buy only the cars they make), and how companies’ close contact with customers helps them adapt over time (Zildjian cymbals, London Farmers’ Markets).  All the stories demonstrate that in order for companies to succeed, they should rely on the human impulse to care.  People want to do what is right; the issue may just be that the employees are so removed from the customers that the company forgets who it is serving.  This connects closely with the problem reframing we are learning about in class.  One needs to understand the customer’s issues and circumstances to define the true problem before creating something that works for them.


The book gives more stories and examples than actual tools to create empathy, but there are a few suggestions:

1. Make it easy

2. Make it everyday

3. Make it experiential

Some examples of these tactics include:

– Target headquarters in Minneapolis has a Target store next door so employees can easily hang out with shoppers

– Sporting goods company Spalding built basketball courts outside the main office so employees are encouraged to use their products constantly

– Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR has miles of running trails on campus and images/memorabilia of their athletes everywhere so employees are inspired and energized


For some companies it would be more difficult for employees to walk in customers’ shoes (investment firms, pharmaceutical companies, senior citizen care), but the effort should be made to truly understand the customer and what matters to them.

At my company, we get constant reminders of the people we serve.  We have letters up around the office from customers who say how much we’ve helped them manage their disease.  At all-hands meetings, we see videos of families where young children are growing up with diabetes and how our products become integral parts of their lives.  Once a year we have a “Connect to a Customer” event where we get the opportunity to listen to customer service calls and hear what customers are saying about our products.  It is eye-opening to hear real-time examples of issues people have with things we think are so intuitive.  Since we are so close to the product, it is important to step back and realize how people are using them in the real world.  It is also important to step back and realize the impact we are having on peoples’ lives.

The last few chapters of the book begin to focus on how corporate empathy can actually make an organization a better place to work.  When employees feel like their work is valued and that they are part of something larger, the work is more meaningful.  All products and services do have the potential to make someone’s life better; it just may take some digging to figure out the right message for both the customer and the employees.  A strong connection to the people with diabetes I serve makes it easier for me to go to work and know that what I do is important to someone’s well being.

Since humans truly are wired to care, we should focus on cultivating that to make our careers and companies more valuable.  This book helps bring examples of empathy to life and shows how widespread empathy can make a positive change in organizations.



Wired to Care February 18, 2011

Posted by Alison Meier in Leading Strategy Change, Wired to Care.

Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortensen

Review by Alison Meier, School of Information, master’s class of 2011

Wired to Care is written by Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortensen from Jump Associates, a strategy consulting company based out of San Francisco and New York. Wired to Care’s basic premise is that businesses are successful when they empathize with their customers.

The authors remind us that companies are made up of people who create products and services for the benefit of other people. As people, our brains are made to understand other people: we have “mirror neurons” that help us understand how others think and feel when we interact with them (we are “wired to care,” as the authors put it).

For companies, understanding how customers think and feel have enormous business advantages, from being able to anticipate market shifts to building customer loyalty to helping employees believe in their work. Yet most companies fail to interact with the customers on a regular basis, relying instead on market research reports. Wired to Care argues that research reports aren’t enough: companies need regular, sustained interaction with customers in order to meet their needs.

Wired to Care illustrates its points through dozens of anecdotes of companies and individuals that embrace (or fail to) a business model of empathy. Some companies that did a good job of understanding their customers were:

  • Harley-Davidson, which requires employees to spend a certain amount of time with motorcycle riders and often hires riders as employees;
  • Nike, whose campus is covered with running trails and athletic facilities, and product designers spend time observing kids college campuses to grasp fashion trends;
  • and Microsoft’s Xbox team, made up of hardcore gamers designing for other hardcore gamers.

In contrast, some companies that failed to understand their customers were:

  • Maxwell House, which led the coffee industry to introduce poor quality beans to coffee blends from the 1950s to the 1990s. Market tests showed that current coffee drinkers didn’t notice the incremental changes, but eventually new generations of coffee drinkers didn’t want to start drinking coffee;
  • and Microsoft’s Zune team, which was the same team that built the highly successful Xbox, but this time they couldn’t figure out who their customer was.

The Empath-O-Meter on their website lets readers votes on how well other companies manage to understand their customers, which helps frame the book’s argument in more real-world examples.

The authors of this book do a good job of illustrating empathy success stories. They demonstrate that some companies have experienced significant growth once they started understanding their customers. Moreover, it makes me want to work for a company that is good at empathy.

The last company that I worked for would likely fall on the “low empathy” side of the Empath-O-Meter. I worked for a major textbook publisher. I never had any contact with the students who would actually use the products we were making, nor did anyone I worked with. We would occasionally hear how a book was selling, but in general, we didn’t know anything about a book after it printed. This made if difficult to think about how our work affected the end users. When a book was running behind schedule or was sloppily prepared, it was easy to think that the only thing this affected was the lead editor’s bonus, when in reality it meant that classes were waiting for the books they had ordered or students were struggling to use texts with errors. Although we knew this in theory, having a chance to see this in person would have pushed us to work faster and better.

Many companies, particularly those that do “design,” are beginning to understand the value of user experience research. In general this means hiring a team or individual specifically to do user experience research, doing ethnographies, contextual interviews, observations, and interviews with the end-users. Wired to Care doesn’t comment specifically on user experience research; instead, it advocates that every member of the company be involved with its end customers. For many companies, this would require a major shift in its daily practices, hiring practices, and maybe even geographical location.

One criticism is that the book does not go into specifics about how to actually practice empathy, beyond hiring Jump to understand your customers for you (though this seems to negate the premise that the entire company needs to be involved in this process). The examples do not provide a roadmap as to how to start this process because they are so varied. In some cases they suggest that hiring your customers is a good place to start, but as the product designer for Nike illustrated, knowing what he wanted a good shoe for running is not enough; he also needed to know what young people found fashionable. Granted, the roadmap would likely be different for every company. However, the book leaves me convinced that empathy is important but no good way to start practicing it.

Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik April 18, 2010

Posted by basikthings in Wired to Care, [Books] Leadership & Change.

Photo of a big bunny rabbit!

Dev Patnaik’s, Wired to Care, is a reminder that businesses are built to operate with the efficient mechanisms of a machine, but in the end they exist to serve the dynamic sentiments of human beings. We are all human, and all humans have certain dispositions that do not adhere strictly to a logical foundation. Instead we couple logic with a carnal need to perpetually feel out our world. Patnaik maps out an innovative strategy that hinges on the empathic ability of the human mind to feel for others as a means of driving smarter business decisions.

Wired to Care is a manifestation of all the experiences that Patnaik has had during his work as a consultant at Jump Associates, a firm that he started. By walking us through a plethora of anecdotal evidence from his work, he illustrates how a company that makes use of empathy practices can positively affect the bottom line. This book is valuable because he was able to leverage all the experience that he has gathered to provide meaningful actions to effect a business. He provides a number of ways that a company can really reach outside the organization and connect with the people that they serve.

Patnaik’s ideas seem to be the marriage between business and design. He echoes the customer orientation that is taught in many marketing classes and injects it with this concept of need finding. By looking harder at how companies can truly find the needs of their customers, he unveils a layer that goes way beyond just simple personas and decision mapping. His ideas have the potential to empower business managers with “gut-level certitude” in their decision process. With this frame of mind, companies are not just going through random tools to try to understand their customers; they know their customers and they are their customers.

What worries me about his frame of mind is that it seems too ideal. It would have been nice if he could talk about areas where taking the time to go through his methods would ultimately not affect the bottom line in a positive way. I’m sure there are a number of examples where churning out product with machine like efficiency could have a better impact on the business as a whole. In either case, his points are well taken, just possibly too good to be true.

Although Patnaik has a very personal direct voice in his writing, the book lacked a structure that I feel could have better emphasized the key lessons from this book. What I would have liked to see was a short succinct exposition on the more theoretical backgrounds to why such a management style is important in business, followed by the anecdotes mixed in that was organized by company. When the author speaks about each company he should re-reference the points that he has made earlier. Instead Patnaik chose to intersperse his key lessons with anecdotes that jumped the gamut of possible companies from page to page—producing a disorienting read. The sections about mirror neurons, the limbic system, and the human connection to business would be particularly suited for the theory section.

This book lends itself well to either a business or a design student. It would appeal to the business student who wishes to include design practices to better affect their pursued businesses and appeal to the design students who want to see the business impact that need finding can have. Overall I think that it is a great read if you can forgive the author for his sporadic structure.

Why should you care? December 7, 2009

Posted by Nii Sai Sai in Wired to Care.
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Why was the Xbox such a huge success for Microsoft? Why does Harley Davidson only allow motorbikes in the parking lot in front of its corporate headquarters? Why on earth did Michael Eisner agree to let Disney build Animal Kingdom in the middle of Florida? And, what do all of these questions have to do with James Carville?


There is no substitute for developing empathy through firsthand experience. Microsoft’s Xbox team was full of avid gamers who knew what a cool game would look, feel, and play like. At Disney, Michael Eisner was at first skeptical of the idea of spending tons of money to bring wild animals to central Florida. The turning point was when his team ‘surprised’ him with a firsthand encounter with an African lion. That was the best pitch, period. Eisner knew right away how thrilling the experience would be for Disney’s customers. Harley Davidson understands how passionate its customers are about bikes . . . and the disdain a lot of them hold for cars. Consequently, the front parking lot is strictly for bikes, while the ‘boxes’ (as they call cars) are relegated to the back. James Carville is known for his famous quote, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Well, he understood the power of affinity with voters, and used that to help Bill Clinton focus on the economy during his presidential campaign.  We all know the results.

I often make the mistake of thinking that I understand where other people are coming from. I like to believe that I can quickly hear someone’s story, and just like a superhero, throw on a cloak of understanding and appreciation for their situation. I tend to believe that I can figure out what people truly want, and do so quickly. And, I think you all make the same mistakes like me. Establishing a common reference point with another person or group requires significant work. We have to immerse ourselves in the other party’s experiences in order to develop the ability to identify with them. When it comes to developing products that truly address customer needs, we will only scratch the surface if we don’t spend the time observing, listening to, and engaging our customers.

Ethnographic research is essential for developing solutions which truly address customer needs because it fosters the development of empathy for the customer. A lot of market research focuses heavily on general trends and averages, and often misses the boat when it comes to specific customer pain points.

December 7, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in Wired to Care.
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Wired to Care

This book was right up my street. The idea that businesses can actually do better for themselves if they care about their customers is exactly what I want to hear! With a marketing background and a desire to move to CSR, it summed up everything I believe in (or want to believe in at least), in a very readable, interesting, engaging format.

The book explores the role of empathy in business. It starts with the story of Pattie Moore, a designer who wanted to fully understand how to design for an elderly customer segment. So she took the concept of ethnographic interviewing one step further and dressed as an old lady on her weekends then wandered around the city experiencing life as an old person. Later on, the book picks up her story again and it turns out she was one of the designers behind the ‘good grip’ OXO kitchen brand which has been extremely successful because of its universal design appeal and easy-to-use utensils. Pattie’s ability to get under the skin of her target market allowed her to deliver products which were so customer-friendly, they couldn’t fail to be successful.

Written by a professor at the Stanford Design School, the book is full of great stories and examples of how empathy can help you connect with your customer and ultimately be more successful in business; whether through greater customer loyalty, better designed products, a clearer understanding of what your customers want, or happier, more motivated employees. It fell on very receptive ears so I feel a little biased in my opinion; but whilst I’m willing to confess that it did make the same point over and over again in different ways, I would also argue that it’s such a great point that it’s worth hearing over and over! The book was well written and interesting, the stories were compelling, and overall I would recommend it as a read.

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.