Widespread Empathy


What’s the critical difference between Nike and every other shoe company on the planet? Why do some airline executives continue to insist that air travel is great when we all know better? What has enabled Zildjian, a family business founded outside Istanbul, to thrive for almost 400 years? The shared answer to all these questions is one of the most fundamental human traits: empathy, the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people.

Over the years we’ve discovered that, more than any other factor, the speed and success with which an organization grows is largely determined by the level of empathy within its walls. When people inside a company develop a shared sense of what’s going on in the world, they see new opportunities faster than their competitors. They have the courage to take a risk on something new. And they have the gut-level certitude to stick with an idea that doesn’t take off right away. As we noted in our first book, people are Wired to Care, and many of the world’s best organizations are, too.

But empathy is far more than fodder for a book or for marketing executives to break out during analyst meetings. It’s a reliable source of business growth rooted in neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology. All the work we do starts with a profound commitment to really see the world through the eyes of ordinary folks and then see how our clients can best serve them over the long term. Sometimes, that means creating detailed ethnographies of participants’ lives. At other times, we place ourselves into the shoes of the people we’re creating for. And still other times, it’s all about helping our clients build systems to help everyone in their organization step beyond the boundaries of their company to get a fundamentally different perspective. People think empathy is soft. But it’s actually hard. More important, it’s unstoppable.

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